Setting the Record Straight, Part 3

Editor’s note: Today Marcus Chatfield continues his series on Straight Inc., the involuntary treatment program for adolescents suspected of drug use that operated in several states between the 1970s and 1990s. Parts 1 and 2 of the series can be found here and here.

In Help at Any Cost (2006), Maia Szalavitz reveals some of the troubling history of coercive programs. The sub-title of her book is, “How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids,” and this is one of the hardest things for a survivor to describe – the deceit that protects abusive programs. Dr. Charles Huffine writes, “I cannot tell you how many youth I’ve been in contact with that do not tell their family about the painful aspects of their experiences for fear of making their family feel bad — though I can say they number in the majority. All too frequently, simply, they did not know they were abused, or worse, that the abuse was justified and necessary for them to ‘get better.’”

Straight-inspired TV movie Not My Kid (1985). Spoiler alert: they got their kid back.

Straight-inspired TV movie Not My Kid (1985). Spoiler alert: they got their kid back.

Tough-love programs often ritualize emotional testimonies and require testimony about conversion experiences as a prerequisite for release from treatment. Because there is no scientific evidence to validate the safety and efficacy of coercive methods, these anecdotes are the “hook” that this multi-billion dollar industry is built upon. Many victims of thought-reform treatments, like victims of domestic violence, will defend their captors as a self-protective survival response. Similar to abusive dynamics in families, when people are beaten down long enough they may believe it’s normal, deserved, and even good for them. As one former staff member of the program said to me recently, “at the time I graduated I was so duped into believing that I’d been helped, I couldn’t even begin to see the damage caused to me.”

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Failed Frontlash: How Liberals Furthered the Case for Mass Incarceration

The response to the Civil Rights Movement initiated one of the most punitive interventions in United States history. Beginning with the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 and onward, the state took on a new role in crime and drug control. State and federal governments revised their criminal codes, imposing mandatory minimums and effectively abolishing parole. Moreover, juveniles were now incarcerated in adult prisons, chain gangs returned—as did a malicious policy of felon disenfranchisement—all while prison rates soared, increasing six-fold between 1973 and the turn of the century.

ImageCompared to its advanced industrial counterparts, the United States imprisons at least five times more of its citizens per capita. Are we inherently more criminal than other nations? Or, do we manufacture criminality? For the most part, the United States and most other human societies across time and space have always had problems with drugs and crime. This is not unique. How the United States has chosen to combat said problem, as well as its unfortunate results, are unique. Legal scholar Jonathan Simon argues that in the United States, crime has become “a, if not the, defining problem of government.” How did we get here?

Vesla Mae Weaver’s work—particularly her use of “frontlash”—offers some important clues to understanding the punitive impulse.  Continue reading

The American Disease: Still Learning?

Editor’s Note: This week’s symposium marking the 40th anniversary of David F. Musto’s The American Disease continues today with a reflection by Joe Spillane, managing editor emeritus of Points and Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida. Joe’s discussion illuminates the breadth of a scholar’s engagement with a major work in his field, ranging from deep immersion in the footnotes to meditations on the structure of Musto’s argument in relation to dominant historical ideas of its day.

The first drug history book I owned was David Musto’s The American Disease.  I purchased the second edition (actually the first expanded edition) not long after it appeared in 1987. Musto’s footnotes were for me, as they had been for David Courtwright more than a decade earlier, loaded with clues as to how and where I might further mine the early history of drug control in the United States. I cannot express just how important those notes were–not only were they the only really comprehensive survey of historical source material, they offered comforting reassurance that I was not alone in my particular scholarly interest. Twenty-five years later, that expanded edition (paperback, of course) is still the one on my shelf to which I turn as a first reference; the majority of pages have at least some notation, and the folded corners, post-it notes, and margin comments serve as a record of my one-way conversation with David Musto over many years.

Scrutiny rewarded.

Scrutiny rewarded.

It took a long time for me to stop thinking about The American Disease solely as a reference volume, and come to grips instead with Musto’s argument. At the heart of the volume is a notion that American drug history is marked by series of cycles of tolerance and intolerance for drug use. Those cycles are partly learning cycles–or, more correctly, cycles of learning and forgetting. As I’ve noted before, I had always intended to ask David where his notion of cycles came from. To some extent, it seems drawn fairly directly from mid-century social learning theory. Here, the process of “learning” about the harms of particular drug use tend to fade away, which leads to a forgetting of what had been learned. This forgetting, in turn, produces a new round of consumption, the harms of which produce a new round of learning.

To this relatively straightforward (though highly disputable) social learning model, however, Musto added a layer focused on emotions and fear. In truth, this argument became clearer in the 1987 edition of the work–no doubt because of the remarkable social and political changes Musto observed in the years following the first edition’s appearance. In a 1991 Scientific American article, Musto concluded: “Americans seem to be the least likely of any people to accept the inevitability of historical cycles. Yet if we do not appreciate our history, we may again become captive to the powerful emotions [emphasis mine] that led to draconian penalties, exaggeration, or silence.” Emotions are the key. Musto was arguing that people respond to drug use with powerful emotions that come from equally powerful cultural dispositions, and that these emotions lead us from the objective response to the visceral, sometimes dangerously so, before the objective pulls us back again, and so on. As (again) I have written before, this argument sounds an awful lot like Richard Hofstadter’s mid-century emphasis on the non-rational aspects of populist and progressive movements, or perhaps John Higham’s portrait of the cycles of nativism in 1954’s Strangers in the Land, or even Andrew Sinclair’s 1962 account of Prohibition in America, Prohibition: The Era of Excess (to which Hofstadter contributed the Preface).

The cycles of emotional reaction argument.

The cycles of emotional reaction argument.

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Coca: The Survival of a Drug of the Dispossessed

In the beginning of this year, Bolivia gained the right to re-access the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation concerning the prohibition of the chewing of coca leaves. This is a small but perhaps not unimportant victory against the global War on Drugs. Especially it means some recognition of the right of indigenous people, the dispossessed of the earth, to their own drug use.

Bolivian woman protests against UN report on coca

Bolivian woman protests against UN report on coca

In my blog of 11 June 2012 I discussed how the knowledge of coca use among the Indians of Spanish America was disseminated by, among others, the buccaneers and pirates of the later seventeenth century. As a collateral result of their plunder voyages on the Spanish Main some of the Brethren of the Coast became key informants on American drugs for the botanists and trading companies of Western Europa. Some of these drugs became export products to the rest of the world, with varying commercial results. Coca, for some reason, didn’t. Was there in Europe in the early modern period no need for a drug that gave a slight stimulation throughout the day? Or did a drug used, not by wild and exotic Indian savages firing the imagination of European armchair adventurers, but used by poor Indian slaves adjusting themselves to Spanish tyranny, fail to have the necessary sexiness to be adopted in the lifestyles of Europeans? Was it just the case that Europeans weren’t used to and didn’t like the method of consumption of coca, chewing the leaves until their teeth turned green? Or was it a matter of too complicated logistics to export the leaves to Europe in a state of some potency? Continue reading

Call for Proposals: The Drugs, Security and Democracy (DSD) Program

The Drugs, Security and Democracy (DSD) Program provides support for research across a variety of disciplines—anthropology, sociology, criminology, history, political science, economics, journalism, public policy, legal studies, public health, and other related fields—to create a network of scholars interested in developing alternative approaches to drug policy and fostering strategies that address the growth of transnational organized crime.

(And Maybe a Little History, Too)

The competition is open to PhD candidates and recent PhD recipients worldwide. The program strives to create a stronger, more systematized knowledge base on drugs, security and democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean; to build capacity—both institutional and individual—by supporting relevant research; and to encourage policy-relevant, evidence-based research that could lead to the development of alternatives to present-day security and drug policies. To watch a video about the program featuring DSD fellows, click here.)  For information on proposal development for this competition, please view our recent webinar [in Spanish] here.

The online application is now available at http://www.ssrc.org/fellowships/dsd-fellowship/. Next deadline is January 20, 2013.

FELLOWSHIP RESEARCH AGENDA, DSD funded research must address the theme of drugs and at least one of the other two themes of security and democracy in Latin America or the Caribbean. These topics may include, but should not be limited to, the following issues and areas of study: political economy, anti-democratic strategies used by communities or states, legal frameworks and analyses, the impact on vulnerable groups, and the role of elites. The program encourages interdisciplinary and comparative projects and those that address transnational and trans-regional issues. We encourage research in or about countries or themes that have been underrepresented in the program’s previously funded projects. Please click here for a list of funded projects from 2011 and 2012.

Applications are welcome from graduate students and postdoctoral researchers conducting research that addresses the theme of drugs and at least one of the other two themes of security and democracy in Latin America or the Caribbean. Eligible applicants will fall into one of the following two categories:

  • Dissertation Fellowship: This competition is open to PhD and JSD candidates worldwide who have an approved dissertation prospectus by July 1, 2013, but have not completed writing for final submission.
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship: The competition is open to PhD and JSD recipients worldwide who have completed their degree within 7 years of the application deadline.

If you are proposing to conduct research in a non-native language, you should provide evidence of the necessary proficiency to carry out the project. The program strongly encourages citizens and residents of Latin America and the Caribbean to apply.

Fellowship Terms: The DSD Program provides support for a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 12 months of research. Candidates based outside of Latin America or the Caribbean must spend at least three months conducting research in the region. Fellowship amounts vary depending on the research plan; however, support will be provided for travel and living expenses as well as associated research costs based on a budget reviewed by the SSRC. The fellowship is intended to support an individual researcher, regardless of whether that individual is working alone or in collaboration with others. Recipients of the DSD Fellowship are expected to devote themselves full-time to their DSD research during the tenure of the fellowship. The fellowship includes mandatory participation in two interdisciplinary workshops, one preceding fellowship research and one upon completion of the fellowship tenure. Workshops will be organized by the SSRC and held in Latin America in late July or early August. Travel and accommodations will be provided.

DSD is funded by the Open Society Foundations and the International Development Research Centre. The program is a partnership between OSF, IDRC, the SSRC, Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico. For more information please visit our program webpage http://www.ssrc.org/programs/dsd and contact dsd [at ssrc [dot] org with any questions.

The Wire at Ten– Jonathan Simon, Wiring in the Empirical

Editor’s note– We round out our consideration of “The Wire at Ten” with a post by legal, historical, and policy studies heavyweight Jonathan Simon.  Simon is the Adrian Kragen Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, where he teaches classes on criminal law and socio-legal studies; he is also the author of multitudinous law review and criminology articles as well as several monographs, including Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (Oxford University Press, 2009), and the forthcoming Mass Incarceration on Trial: America’s Courts and the Future of Imprisonment (New Press 2013). Simon’s post today closes out our series on HBO’s The Wire with a consideration of the overlaps–and gaps– between the show’s narrative “realism” and the empiricism that goes by that name in the contemporary legal academy. Thanks again to all the Wire fans (and non-fans) who contributed to the series: Joe Spillane, Carlo Rotella, Sergio Campos, Stan Corkin, and Jack Halberstam.  All your pieces matter!

The popularity of HBO’s The Wire among legal academics — especially scholars of criminal law–responds to the same transformations in the legal field that have made empirical studies increasingly influential there.  But might the satisfaction of getting “realism” from a DVD (or download) deter a scholar from trading the couch for the backseat of a police car?

This is What Empiricism Looks Like

This is What Empiricism Looks Like

Empirical knowledge about law is enjoying unprecedented prestige in both law schools and courts. Continue reading

Call for Proposals: “Challenging Punishment: Race, Public Health, and the War on Drugs”

Harry Anslinger, the Original Drug Czar, 1930-1962

Editor’s Note: last summer, Points ran a call for participants in a working group focused on “Challenging Punishment”; this conference is a related but separate event, with its own deadlines.

Friday 4 October and Saturday 5 October, 2013 will see the Challenging Punishment Conference, a two-day critical dialogue among scholars and researchers; health and legal workers; activists and advocates; artists and cultural producers to discuss the relevant issues about the War on Drugs, declared by President Richard Milhouse Nixon in 1971 and now in its fifth decade. The meetings will be held in New York City, on the campus of Columbia University and at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library). The institutional sponsor is the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), at Columbia University. Organizers Donna Murch, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University and Samuel Roberts, Associate Professor of History (Columbia University) and Sociomedical Sciences (Mailman School of Public Health) invite interested parties to submit detailed abstracts of no more than 500 words, describing papers, projects, or panels to challengingpunishment [at] gmail [dot] com by 15 February 2013.

We are facing a moment of crisis and opportunity in the United States’ War(s) on Drugs (WoD). Official federal sanction against drug use is nearly a century old. For many decades since, there have been dissenting voices calling for the relaxation or abandonment of criminal penalties in favor of addiction treatment, mental health care provision, and other public health measures. More recently, even many law enforcement officials, former drug warriors, and conservative opinion makers have declared the War on Drugs a resounding failure. Punitive response continues nonetheless as the nation’s dominant domestic and international drug policy; and drug-related prosecutions since 1980 constitute the largest category of offenses contributing to the expansion of the prison system and — more generally — the carceral state. The War on Drugs is now a crisis of immense proportions.

This conference’s title, “Challenging Punishment,” has two meanings. On the one hand, it refers to the current state of substance abuse policy — which favors incarceration and social immobilization (punishment) over mental health care provision and community empowerment — that very literally challenges the realization of social justice, autonomy, and freedom. At the same time, the participants assembled for this conference will individually and collectively challenge this state of affairs within a wide range of academic/disciplinary research agendas, professional engagements, political mobilizations, and creative expressions.

Topics to be addressed will include (but are not limited to): the carceral state, criminal and juvenile justice policy; importance of race, class gender, sexuality, citizenship status and indigeneity in driving drug policy and mass incarceration; public health and therapeutic culture; punitive vs. redistributive social policy; informal, illicit and underground economies; licit drugs and pharmaceutical industry; culture wars and drug wars; and finally, mobilizing and building coalitions against the War on Drugs.

The Wire at Ten: Stanley Corkin, Drugs and The Ecology of the Ghetto

Editor’s Note: Following up on Sergio Campos’s meditation on the narrative manifestations of “subordination” in HBO’s The Wire, Points today welcomes Stanley Corkin of the University of Cincinnati’s English Department.  Recipient of a PhD in American Studies from NYU in the days before that school was fashionable (full disclosure: I was an undergraduate there at the same time, but our cronyism remained nascent until just recently), Corkin is the author of Starring New York: Filming the Grime and Glamour of the Long 1970s (Oxford, 2011) and Cowboys as Cold Warriors: The Western and U.S. History (Temple,2004). His post today is drawn from his forthcoming book, The Wire: Space, Race, and the Wonders of Post-Industrial Baltimore (Texas, 2013).

How you expect to run with the wolves come night, when you spend all day sporting wit’ the puppies?
– Omar, Season Four

Over its five seasons, The Wire, among other things, delineated the terms of ghetto life in Baltimore, showing us in dramatic detail a self-contained sector of West Baltimore, a world defined by the term “hyper-segregation,” which references class as well as race.

caption

“Key Factors Effecting the Elasticity of Demand Include What?”

In such a self-contained space, overall wealth tends to be finite: if someone is getting more, then someone else is getting less. And in that world of restricted space and opportunity, the drug trade stands at the center of economic activity, since only illicit commerce can thrive in a place that is so geographically isolated. This limit of commodity and geographic market sets up a fierce and violent competition for both status and wealth.  As even Stringer Bell learns, it’s not just about product, it’s also about corners, since even a superior product cannot find its market if it has no access to those who would buy it. In such a vision of a specific and constrained environment, it is no surprise that eventually the emphasis of the show moves toward a neo-Social Darwininism through its exploration of the contours of human ecology within the spaces of West Baltimore.

This focus takes many forms. In the picturesque quote above, Omar explains how he feels about “finding” a bag of heroin when he’s out looking for Honey Nut Cheerios.  He expresses disappointment at the ease of his acquisition, elaborating further, “It’s not what you take, but who you take it from.”  As one who has dedicated his life to feeding off of those who feed off others, Omar’s assertion shows his attention to the “food chain:” he seeks to feed at its highest point.  Continue reading

The Wire at Ten: Carlo Rotella, “The Case Against ‘Kojak Liberalism’”

Editor’s Note: The first guest blogger in our series “The Wire at Ten” is Carlo Rotella, noted scholar, public intellectual, playground point guard, and, not incidentally, Director of American Studies at Boston College.  (Full disclosure: he was a couple years ahead of me in graduate school.) A regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine and an op-ed columnist for the Boston Globe, his latest book, published this fall, is Playing in Time:  Essays, Profiles, and Other True Stories.  “The Case Against Kojak Liberalism” is excerpted from his piece of the same name in the University of Michigan Press collection The Wire:  Race, Class, and Genre, edited by Liam Kennedy and Stephen Shapiro (2012).  Unlike last week’s commentator Joe Spillane, Carlo has actually watched The Wire.

Carter: “Wars End”

In his commentary on the DVD version of episode one of the first season of The Wire, David Simon notes that it was Ed Burns who wrote Detective Carver’s line about why the war on drugs isn’t really a war:  “Wars end.”  Simon says that Burns is “entitled” to have written it after having fought in two losing wars, first as a soldier in Vietnam and then as a police officer in the war on drugs.  The collapsing New Deal order spent much of its remaining force in these pyrrhic struggles.  When I talked to some of the creators of the show in 2008, they were explicit about their interest in this historical and political big picture against which they set The Wire’s action.

When I asked Burns about the war on drugs he pointed out that Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore who turns up on The Wire in a minor role as a health commissioner, was “crucified for questioning the war on drugs.”  Burns told me, “People are fed up with it.  We wanted to make it permissible to talk about that.  The police have become an army of occupation.”  Simon added, “We wanted to highlight the fact that the drug war is actually destructive to law enforcement.”

For Dennis Lehane, the chance to address the big picture in politically “simpatico” company—which also included the novelists George Pelecanos and Richard Price—was part of the attraction of writing for The Wire.  “I felt that a lot of 80s crime fiction was shit and it wasn’t about anything,” he told me.  “It was, ‘Let’s have nine serial killers.’  I felt it has to be about something, some kind of social document.  If there was a place where we all agreed, it was that the war on drugs was a farce, a de facto war on the poor that drove our incarceration rate through the roof.”  In formulating their response to this disaster, the writers wished to steer clear of both the conventional anti-crime right and what they regarded as a weak, unappealing left.  “I’m not a kneejerk liberal,” Lehane said.  “I grew up in Boston under busing.  We’re not Kojak liberals, and we’re not kneejerk liberals.”

Whatever kind of liberals they were, they were also professional tellers of crime stories.  I want to outline how those two elements, an ideological disposition and a craft expertise in genre fiction, came together in The Wire.  In the last third of the twentieth century, the war on crime and its subsidiary war on drugs claimed so much ideological real estate that it pushed dissenters to a margin occupied by bleeding hearts, stoners, libertarian cranks, and hairsplitting lawyers for the defense like The Wire’s own Maurice Levy.  Urban liberals, especially, were squeezed into a tight corner by compulsory universal conscription in the war on crime. Continue reading

LSE IDEAS: The Global Drug Wars

Recently, the LSE IDEAS program hosted a daytime conference, “Reevaluating the International Drug Control System–Historical Evolution; Potential for Reform,” along with an evening event, “The Global Drug Wars.”  Both events are worth sharing with the readers of Points.

LSE IDEAS is housed within the London School of Economics, and focuses on international affairs.  The ambition is one that readers of Points might appreciate: “understanding how today’s world came into being, and how it may be changed.”  That was certainly the animating spirit behind the daytime conference, very ably organized by LSE doctoral candidate John Collins.  If you aren’t yet familiar with John and his work, you will be, and you might get a head start on getting acquainted here.  Associated with the daytime conference is a report, Governing the Global Drug Wars, which may be read in its entirety online.  What I like about the report is that it brings together some very able historical commentary with some equally solid commentary on contemporary policy regimes.  I wish, of course, that these were more directly in conversation with one another, but reading them side-by-side produces something close.

The evening event was moderated by LSE IDEAS founding Co-Director, Mick Cox, and featured four presenters: Bill McAllister, David Courtwright, Ethan Nadelmann, and Nigel Inkster.  You can view the entire event online.  First up, McAllister, an outstanding historian of international drug control and special projects director in the State Department’s Office of the Historian.  McAllister gave a remarkably useful guide to the historical nuts and bolts of the international control system, and if you pay close attention at the end, he offers some really useful insights into the prospects for future change within the system.  Second up, Courtwright took the assembled audience on a colorful yet efficient tour of global drugs and alcohol history, sorting out the still-essential question of why we make war on some drugs but not on others. Continue reading