DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Frying the Small Fish

December 13- The LA Weekly reports: Douglas Gray was jailed for life in July 1992 for buying a pound of marijuana for himself and friends from a local criminal who had been paid $100 by the local police in Decatur, Alabama, to work as an informer.

A Vietnam vet, Gray had not been in trouble with the police for 13 years and had never committed any offenses serious enough for jail. Because the amount of marijuana he purchased was enough to make him a dealer, he was jailed for life without parole

December 14- The UK Independent reports: A disabled charity worker emerged into the arrivals area of Heathrow airport yesterday in a wheelchair, his arms outstretched as he returned home from two years in a primitive Indian prison cell.

Ian Stillman, 52, whose imprisonment on drugs charges was described as one of the worst miscarriages of justice, was freed after intervention by Tony Blair and the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

Mr Stillman, who is deaf, used sign language interpreted by Lennie, his son, to say: "It's brilliant to be free again. I was in jail far, far longer than I thought I would have been. I thought I would be freed after six months but it has taken just over two years."

After three decades of working for the deaf in India, Mr Stillman was arrested when travelling through the Kullu valley in the Himalayas 28 months ago, after police at a roadblock discovered 44lb of cannabis in his taxi.

Despite his family arguing that his disability meant he could not carry the consignment of drugs, the charity worker was sentenced to 10 years in June. He had not understood a word of his trial. Mr Stillman was incarcerated with 31 people in a small cell in Shimla prison, north of Delhi, with inadequate toilet facilities and heating. Last week, after Tony Blair appealed for clemency to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's Prime Minister, he was released.

Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, described the case against Mr Stillman as absurd. "There are things that just scream out to you," he said. "I have never actually been presented with a case where the guy is physically incapable of acting in the manner suggested by police. They said he single-handedly carried around a cargo through India that he couldn't even lift because of his artificial leg."

December 15- The Houston Chronicle reports: Texas' war on drugs punishes few major importers and dealers but imprisons thousands caught with less than a sugar packet full of cocaine or other illegal drugs.

The battle rages most fiercely in Harris County.

Of the 58,000 drug convictions won by local prosecutors over the past five years, 77 percent involved less than a gram of a drug, according to district court data analyzed by the Houston Chronicle. Harris County sent 35,000 of these small-time offenders to jail or prison.

The numbers suggest that these men and women are collateral damage in the war on drugs, arrested because they were easy targets rather than objects of a grand strategy. The impact is felt most harshly in black neighborhoods.

A recent national report on incarceration patterns concluded there is "a two-tiered `war,' in which middle-income communities with resources can address their drug problems privately as a health issue, while low-income neighborhoods are essentially consigned to criminal justice mechanisms."

In Texas, drug abusers sentenced to prison often find waiting lists for counseling programs so long that they are released before they can get in. That means these addicts are thrown back into the same situations they left, this time with a felony record and further diminished prospects.

December 15- The Sacramento Bee reports: When Gov. Gray Davis proposed midyear budget cuts last week, few programs were spared. Adult Medi-Cal recipients would have to do without dental care. Disabled people were asked to forgo a cost-of-living increase in monthly grants. People who recently escaped welfare would lose their guarantee of subsidized child care. Scores of road projects could be delayed.

But one part of the budget -- prisons -- escaped largely unscathed. The Department of Corrections, which runs the prisons, spends more than 6 percent of the state's general fund. Yet it accounted for only 0.1 percent of the $10.2 billion in cuts and other money-saving measures proposed by Davis.

Davis said he would not balance the budget by jeopardizing public safety.

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

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