All rational people should agree that the war on drugs declared by former President Richard Nixon 40 years ago has been an epic failure that needlessly has filled our prisons with nonviolent inmates and cost taxpayers enormously.
The numbers are staggering: Media reports show the United States spent $15.5 billion in 2010 on drug control efforts. More than $23 billion in federal and state money has been spent so far this year, according to DrugSense. Over the years, according to one report, the U.S. has spent at least $121 billion to arrest 37 million nonviolent people on drug charges. Meanwhile, illegal drugs remain readily available and people continue to use.
The war on drugs is not working, and this country needs a seismic shift in how it manages its drug control efforts and how it treats nonviolent drug offenders. Legalization and decriminalization of drugs is one answer; community sentencing, not prison time, for nonviolent offenders is another.
Nothing better illustrates how the current “drug-control” system is broken, unjust and plain ludicrous than the case of Patricia Spottedcrow, a mother who received a 12-year overall prison sentence in a case in which the main charge was the selling of approximately $30 worth of marijuana in 2010 to an undercover informant. It was a first offense, and Spottedcrow, 25, entered a guilty plea. The late Kingfisher County District Judge Susie Pritchett gave her an unbelievably harsh sentence.
Spottedcrow is currently serving her sentence at the Eddie Warrior Correction Center in Taft. Her mother, Dee Starr, who was also convicted in the case but received probation, is taking care of Spottedcrow’s four children.
How can it be in the state’s interest to risk harming four innocent children for such a minor crime?
Jerri Stephens, who operates the FREE Spottedcrow Facebook page, has been in contact with Spottedcrow and her mother. Stephens said Spottedcrow’s judge “tore a perfectly happy family apart.” She said Spottedcrow’s children have suffered emotionally.
“The babies don’t understand why their mother is gone,” Stephens wrote. “They cry for her every night, going to a picture that is hanging from the wall crying out ‘momma, momma,’ running to the door where Patricia once slept to only find a empty room without their mother.”
There have been financial burdens as well. Raising four children is expen sive.
Spottedcrow’s phone cards are not cheap, but it’s vital that she keep in touch with her children, Stephens said.
A group in California recently donated $300 in clothes and Stephens’ mother helped fund a recent trip the children took to visit Spottedcrow. Stephens said people from as far away as California, Canada and Ireland are following the case, which has “gone viral.” But Spottedcrow, according to Stephens, remains unsure about what her future holds.
“Patricia is so scared her babies won’t remember who she is having to serve a 12-year sentence over something that should have been taken care of in a different view and that isn’t placing the working mother into the prison system,” Stephens wrote.
The war on drugs marches on.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the Okie Funk blog.