Officials Question Drug War's Effectiveness

Cedric Willis, who was arrested in 1994 and charged with murder, rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault, and was exonerated 12 years later, said police departments and prosecutors have all they money they need to lock people up. However, it's often in cases like his, where the justice system failed, that officials claim inadequate funding exists to correct the system's mistakes.

Cedric Willis, who was arrested in 1994 and charged with murder, rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault, and was exonerated 12 years later, said police departments and prosecutors have all they money they need to lock people up. However, it's often in cases like his, where the justice system failed, that officials claim inadequate funding exists to correct the system's mistakes. Photo by Trip Burns.

Lee Vance, an assistant police chief with the Jackson Police Department, has no qualms with the idea of legalizing marijuana, which he believes would unclog the courts. But Vance, a Jackson native with more than two decades of law enforcement experience, draws the line there.

"I will fight to my death not to legalize crack-cocaine," Vance said.

Vance participated in a roundtable discussion at the Mississippi Black Leadership Summit, under way at the Jackson Convention Center. Also present at the discussion were Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, Assistant Hinds County Public Defender Alice Stamps and Cedric Willis, who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Vance attributes the majority of crime in the capital city to the introduction of crack in the late 1980s. Although violent crime has subsided from the numbers seen at the height of the crack epidemic in the early1990s, Vance estimates that drugs are at the root of most of Jackson's approximately 50 homicides this year.

"Crack turns honest people into criminals—burglars, armed robbers," Vance told the audience at the summit.

While Vance's view is conventional within law-enforcement circles, drug-policy experts assert that the criminalization of crack and other drugs fuels a cycle of mass incarceration and continued drug use.

Statistics from the Drug Policy Alliance show that law enforcement agencies spend approximately $50 billion on the drug war and that 1.55 million people were arrested in 2012 for nonviolent drug offenses. In addition, two-thirds of people incarcerated for drug offenses are black or Hispanic even though drug use is about the same for all racial groups, data show.

Asha Bandele, director of the advocacy grants program at Drug Policy Alliance, moderated the panel discussion. She said that drug laws also disproportionately affect young people of color. A Brooklyn resident, Bandele said that such policies as stop-and-frisk also fuel the jail and prison population; a court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy.

"We're more mad that they're sagging (their pants) than whether they had breakfast," Bandele said of common perceptions of young people.

Alice Stamps, an assistant public defender, and Robert Shuler Smith, the county's top prosecutor, argued that the Mississippi Legislature should provide more funding. Stamps called for more funding of the state's public defender departments so that attorneys can better help clients fight drug charges. Smith said he plans to ask lawmakers for more money for drug courts, which are designed to provide an alternative to prison.

Cedric Willis, who was arrested in 1994 and charged with murder, rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault, and was exonerated 12 years later, said police departments and prosecutors have all they money they need to lock people up. However, it's often in cases like his, where the justice system failed, that officials claim inadequate funding exists to correct the system's mistakes.

Said Willis of the drug war: "I believe that if they wanted to stop drugs, drugs would stop."

Comments

justjess 5 months, 1 week ago

It seems that a giant piece of the financial puzzle is left out of this gathering of individuals trying to make sense of the Drug War. That piece is the inclusion of the Mississippi State Department of Mental Health - Alcohol and Drug Division.

Millions of federal dollars support programs geared towards addressing the State's problem with drug abuse to include treatment centers, prevention and also the funding of Drug Courts throughout the state. Where are the representatives from this entity? Were they asked to participate?

Before the Legislature is brought into the equation, the State Department of Mental Health - Alcohol and Drug Division would be first on the agenda for information governing the fiscal management of funds being given to the State for management/treatment/prevention of this HUGH problem.

Just asking.

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