Urban Myths in Action

"These are among the great urban myths of our time: (1) we are imprisoning too many people for merely possessing illegal drugs, (2) drug and other criminal sentences are too long and harsh, and (3) the criminal justice system is unjustly punishing young black men."
-- Drug "Czar" designate John P. Walters, in The Weekly Standard, March 6, 2001

July 16 -- The South Bend, Indiana Tribune reports: Despite Indiana's efforts at alternative sentencing, the state's prison population jumped 60 percent to 34,676 in the last decade, according to 2000 census figures.

National and state experts say the growth can be tracked to America's crackdown on drugs, with a focus on enforcement, longer sentences and more stringent laws for drug offenses.

On July 1, 2000, 83 percent of Indiana's adult prison inmates who were convicted of a Class A felony -- the most severe -- were serving time for a drug offense, said Pam Pattison, Indiana Department of Correction spokeswoman. Of those convicted of a B felony, 98 percent were serving time for drugs.

July 18 -- The Charleston, West Virginia Gazette reports: More than one-third of the people behind bars in the Mountain State are black, though blacks make up only about 3 percent of the general population.

The rate is even higher among black women, who make up nearly 44 percent of the state's incarcerated females. Overall, 18 percent of the people behind bars in West Virginia are women.

One out of every 16 black people in the Mountain State is behind bars. One out of every 10 black men is incarcerated. Comparatively, one out of every 255 white people is behind bars.

July 19 --The Washington Post reports: A confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration compromised dozens of prosecutions across the United States by falsely testifying under oath and concealing his own arrest record, but the DEA continued to employ him for 16 years despite detailed knowledge of his wrongdoing, according to interviews, court records and an internal report by the agency.

By the time Justice Department officials took Andrew Chambers off the DEA payroll last year, he had earned about $1.8 million from the government, according to the report and interviews.

Last month, a congressional committee launched an investigation of the FBI's use of mobsters as confidential informants. But the DEA's mishandling of Chambers is a particularly egregious example of what can go wrong.

The DEA knew that Chambers had lied under oath in at least 16 of 25 sworn depositions and trials. Despite numerous arrests, Chambers has been convicted only of a single charge of soliciting a prostitute.

Chambers, 44, who has never been prosecuted for his false testimony, declined to comment on the allegations and said he now travels the country as a motivational speaker.

July 18 -- The Washington Post reports: Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), President Bush's nominee to head the Drug Enforcement Administration, said yesterday he would not tolerate racial profiling instruction by DEA agents who teach local police drug enforcement tactics.

Hutchinson offered no specific remedies but said that "I know that we already have a policy that prohibits racial profiling and that needs to be enforced. I will certainly go over there [DEA] with that intent."

July 22 -- Tulia, Texas hosts the Never Again Rally, commemorating the two-year anniversary of a drug sting, for alleged cocaine sales, that netted 16 percent of Tulia, Texas' black population. The 18-month investigation led to the arrest of 46 men, 39 of whom are black.

All of the indictments centered around the uncorroborated testimony of Tom Coleman, a new undercover agent planted by the Panhandle Regional Task Force. According to Mother Jones magazine: "Defense Attorney Paul Holloway, discovered Coleman had been described as a 'compulsive liar' in court documents and had been arrested during the sting operation for a string of unpaid debts in other counties."

Coleman was honored as Outstanding Lawman of the Year following the bust.

Among the black defendants, Joe Moore was sentenced to 90 years; Christopher E. Jackson, 18, got 35 years. Kareem White got 60 years. William Cash Love, a white defendant, was given a cumulative sentence of 434 years.

Send tips or comments to author Kevin Nelson at kcnelson@premier1.net.

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