This article by Karen Bojar appeared in DailyNews on Mon, Jul. 31, 2006
War on drugs: Time for boomers to 'fess up
An article in the July 25 Daily News reported that prisons in Philadelphia are about 1,000 over capacity.There is an obvious solution to this overcrowding: end mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses. The war on drugs has had a devastating impact on increasing numbers of women who have been incarcerated as a result of these policies.
Unfortunately, many women's organizations have not paid enough attention to the impact of the drug war on women and their families. At its 2005 convention, the National Organization for Women passed a resolution called "Women's rights: Another casualty of the 'War on Drugs.' "
The resolution says that "the incarceration rate of women convicted of low-level drug-related offenses has increased dramatically in the past decade as a result of our nation's relentless 'War on Drugs.' Poor women and women of color have been disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement and receive long mandatory prison sentences that have little relationship to their actions or culpability."
The NOW resolution also says that "two-thirds of women in prison have at least two children who are displaced as a result of their incarceration, often forced to live in the care of family, friends, or state-sponsored foster care where they may be at increased risk of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse."
Yet the policies continue and attempts to end mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses have been largely unsuccessful. Philadelphia NOW has tried to implement this resolution by educating our members and the broader public, yet it has been difficult to get this issue on the radar screen.
The willingness to incarcerate large numbers of people for minor drug offenses is the shame of the baby-boom generation.A generation of young people in the '60s and early '70s experimented with drugs and for the most part did so with impunity.
Many powerful and successful women and men in our society experimented with drugs in their youth. But their careers were not derailed; their families were not torn apart. Sadly, they are now willing to ignore the fact that another generation of women and men are being incarcerated in appalling numbers for drug-related crimes.
In 1972, Ms. Magazine published a petition headlined: "We have had abortions." Fifty-three well-known U.S. women declared that they had undergone abortions - despite state laws rendering the procedure illegal.
Perhaps we need a petition like this to address the issue of illegal drugs. (I'm not equating abortion with using illegal drugs, just suggesting a strategy to call attention to a problem.)
We need people who experimented with drugs and became productive citizens who are willing to say, "I used illegal drugs and went on to become a productive member of society. I and other members of my generation were not incarcerated for long periods of time for what would be considered low-level drug offenses. The current war on drug is having a devastating impact on low-income families (particularly low-income communities of color) and our current policy of mass incarceration must be stopped."
Such a petition might be what we need to get action on Pennsylvania House Bill HB 751, which seeks to address prison overcrowding by abolishing mandatory minimums for certain non-violent offenses. Any takers?
Karen Bojar, President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women.