Monday, October 29, 2007

Back to My Real Life

After what seems like a years long hiatus, but in reality was only a few months, I am happy to announce that, as of today, I am back up to top speed in my old tricks, shenannigans and rabble-rousing for the most noble cause of drug policy reform in the state of Alabama. That's right...I've said goodbye to Wal-Mart and am once again a full-time hell raiser.

I have twice as much on tap this year as I have in years past. Not only will I continue to lead the effort to pass a medical marijuana law in Alabama, I am also doing something new this year called Court Watch.

The Court Watch program is something I and a friend of mine have been working on for the past three years. It is a monitoring program for the drug courts in Alabama. I disagree with the entire concept of drug court. I feel that drug and alcohol addiction are private family matters, as well as health and social issues, that have no business being dealt with in the criminal justice system, which is focused on negative punishment as opposed to healthful healing. But, since the government insists on inserting itself into the middle of this issue then I have taken it upon myself to make sure that for every dollar the courts take from non-violent drug offenders they offer a service that will truly help in return. While I disagree with drug courts on principal I do concede that they are a better alternative than prison and, if run properly, they can benefit people who are truly addicted and in need of their services.

I am convinced, however, that the majority of the defendants that make up the bulk of drug court case loads are adult marijuana smokers who are not breaking any laws other than possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. If that is the case then we will soon find ourselves facing a treatment crisis, not unlike the prison overcrowding crisis, where marijuana consumers, who are not addicts in need of intervention, take up all the space needed for those addicted to prescription narcotics, crack cocaine, methamphetimine and alcohol. Court Watch is designed to collect and track that information in hopes of making the drug court system work properly. We also plan to use it in our future efforts to remove responsible, adult marijuana consumers out of the criminal justice equation, thereby freeing up police and court resources better spent on violent crimes and crimes with actual victims.

Many drug courts in Alabama operate in the following way. You get arrested for simple personal possession of marijuana. Your lawyer tells you about this program called drug court where you plead guilty and agree to follow the program rules for a year. If you succeed then your record will be cleared and you can go on your way. If you fail you still go to jail. Sounds simple enough right?

The program consists of attending court sessions so many times a month, seeing a court referral officer or probation officer so many times a month, peeing in a cup so many times a month, attending drug class so many times a month and attending AA/NA meetings on a regular basis. Almost everything you are required to do comes with a hefty price tag for which you are required to foot the bill. The CRO/Probation officer visits, the drug tests, the drug class, the court sessions all cost you money. If you don't have any money then you will likely fail and wind up in jail anyway after the courts have bankrupted you.

The drug courts/drug laws make it very hard for a regular person to succeed. If you get a misdemeanor conviction for simple personal possession of marijuana your drivers license are automatically suspended for at least 6 months. That makes it impossible for you to drive yourself to your many drug court related appointments and it puts undue hardship on your family and friends to have to shuttle you about. If you have a job before you start attending drug court then good luck keeping it. Not many employers are willing to let you off early a few days out of every week especially if it is for anything drug related. If you don't have a job chances are you will have a difficult time finding one because you cannot drive yourself to and from the job, you need to be off an unreasonable amount of time to attend all the things drug court requires you to attend and most prospective employers will close the door on anyone who is already in trouble for drugs.

Let's talk about all the money you have to pay for various 'services' and what you get out of them. The drug classes, which you pay for, are nothing more than quasi-religious "Drugs are bad...Mmmmmmkkkk so pray to Jesus to save you" church sessions. They are totally illegal because of the religious overtones, not to mention useless because they do not teach anyone any skills for recovery from addiction. The only benificiaries are those collecting the fees.

CRO/Probation fees are paid for every visit you are required to make. They only benefit the CRO/Probation office. You get no service for your money.

Drug test fees benefit the lab. You get no service for your money.

Any fines you have to pay benefit the court system. You get no service for your money.

When someone who is truly addicted comes out of a drug court program (if they make it out) then they have learned nothing to help them stay clean and cope with daily life. Guess what happens? They start using drugs again and wind up in jail on the taxpayer tab anyway.

Here is how drug court should work. Instead of offering prayer sessions they should offer mental health counseling. Many people who suffer from addiction also suffer from mental illness like depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. Some counseling and perhaps medication in some cases would benefit true addicts, their families and society much more than a propaganda based anti-drug class.

Instead of CRO/Probation officer visits they should offer vocational rehab to help those who can work find employment. Poverty leads to depression which can lead to a return to drug use.

Instead of mandatory AA/NA they should offer both religious and non-religious based forms of support groups. If someone is comfortable with AA/NA fine. If someone wants to participate in a local church group that has a drug program fine. If someone, who is not religious, does not want to participate in either then there has to be something for them as well. Any existing community resource for overcoming drug addiction should be made available to drug court defendants.

Instead of imprisoning those who fail drug tests they should offer in-patient treatment. Scientific studies show that when trying to make major life changes, like quitting smoking or drinking, stress is the thing you need to stay fartherest from. But what does the government do? They take people who need no stress and expose them to the maximum stress by locking them in a cage with dangerous, violent criminals. Brilliant!

By the way, most people sentenced to drug court for marijuana pass all the drug tests. If they can do that it means they are not addicted. So, why bother pot smokers at all? Think about it. Most pot smokers I know would be more than willing to pay a reasonable tax, which could be used to fund treatment centers for those who really need it. Why extort us when we are willing to pay you anyway? Why not create a whole new tax/revenue base, while at the same time creating new jobs, reducing prison overcrowding and making communities safer by freeing up law enforcement and court resources to focus on real dangerous criminals?

In that scenario everyone wins and no one loses. Why can't we do that?

Hopefully by weeks end I will have a Court Watch website up and running. We are also working on two publications for distribution to any and all defendants in Alabama court, the public and anyone else who is interested. They are;

"Alabama Court Watch, A Citizen's Guide to Their Rights and Responsibilities in an Alabama Court of Law. It explains basic stuff about how the courts are suppossed to work, what you should expect from the court, what your rights are in court, how to ensure that your attorney is doing what they should do and things of that nature. It also gives tips and advice for defendants like what to wear and what not to wear, how to address the judge, who you should and should not speak to, keeping emotions in check and the like.

Know Your Rights During a Police Encounter
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Many people do not know what their rights are during a police encounter and wind up giving up the most important ones, which generally results in arrest. This publication will seek to inform citizen's of their rights during police encounters. As they say, Knowledge is Power and the more knowledge the average citizen has the more power thay have to avoid arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for doing something that shouldn't be illegal in the first place.

If you would like to assist with the cost of printing these publications you may send a contribution at this link.

If you would rather mail a contribution you may send it to the following address
PO BOX 504
Alexander City, AL 35010

**Please note that contributions are not tax deductible at this time. We are in the process of filing for 501c3 status.**

While our main focus is to track marijuana defendants in various Alabama drug court programs we will also be monitoring district courts for judicial misconduct, which I have witnessed a great deal of over the course of the last 5 years. I won't say what I have seen because that would alert the judges who violate the rights of both defendant's and observers every time they hold court and I don't want to warn them. They should already know that the things they are doing are unconstitutional. They are judges, after all. What I will say is that they will soon be receiving a little note in the mail from the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission informing them that a complaint has been filed against them for various infractions.

If you would like to be a volunteer court watcher in your area of the state, have been through an Alabama drug court and would like to share your story, or would like to assist this project in some other way please email me to discuss further.

I'll see you in court..

Loretta Nall
Executive Director
Alabama Court Watch (website coming soon)


alapoet said...

I think the Court Watch is a great idea!

Don said...

I'm glad to see that you feel you can say goodbye to Wally-world and devote your attention to other matters.