Is incarceration the answer?

To the Editor:

Brad Lipton’s column (“A summer of probation and a new view of the drug war,” 9/4) paints a picture of a drug user crying out for help, terrorizing society only to be saved by it through incarceration. This borders on caricature, and is a sad demonstration of the myopic official view of drugs and drug users that continues to obstruct effective policy.

Lipton argues that hard drug use, like drunk driving, is “inherently dangerous” to society, without stopping to consider the effect of the economic distortion and social alienation created by the drug war. Might these contribute to drug-related crimes, or does heroin simply induce a biological need to rob convenience stores?

Alarmingly, Lipton moves on to describe the benefits of jail time for drug use, citing as proof “a stack” of thank you letters and “one addict” he spoke with. It seems disingenuous at best for a recent employee of the court system not even to acknowledge the thousands upon thousands of lives that have been destroyed — families and communities, especially and disproportionately those of minorities, torn apart, men, women and children put away for years for nonviolent offenses — by overzealous prosecutors.

Lipton’s call for treatment is a step in the right direction, but in a time of increasing public awareness of the disastrous consequences of the drug war, when the Office of National Drug Control Policy, only in the last few days, has shifted its policy position away from punitive measures, it seems unacceptable to laud our justice system without also shedding light on its failures and aggressively calling for change.

Jordan Bass ’04

September 4, 2002

To the Editor:

I was dismayed by Brad Lipton’s column on drug prohibition (“A summer of probation and a new view of the drug war,” 9/4). His reasoning — that people will inevitably become addicted to “hard” drugs and will then inevitably lose their jobs and will then inevitably commit crimes to support their habit — is simplistic at best.

By “hard” drugs, I am assuming that he is referring to Schedule I drugs (like heroin) and Schedule II drugs (like cocaine). As categorized by the Drug Enforcement Act, both Schedule I and II drugs have a high potential for abuse, the difference being that Schedule II drugs have accepted medical uses. These Schedule II drugs include not only PCP, but also methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin, and many other amphetamines and their derivatives, such as Dexedrine.

Lipton’s conclusion is thus immediately suspect; many students here probably know someone who is addicted to ADHD medication and can still function well in society, holding down jobs and, God forbid, even attending Yale. If the likelihood of addiction is the determining factor in the societal harm a drug will cause, why not ban nicotine and legalize heroin? As is often repeated, heroin users are proportionally more likely to quit than smokers. We must ask ourselves, then, why heroin addiction appears to lead more readily to theft and other asocial behavior. Perhaps its artificially high price via prohibition is a contributing factor?

I do not want to suggest that heroin and cocaine are “safe.” The former has a high likelihood of inducing coma, the latter heart attack and psychosis. But any debate over complex social issues requires a correspondingly complex analysis.

Max Kennerly ’03

September 4, 2002