The word “criminalization” feels right and just to us. After all, it has the word “criminal” in it. Even if we feel that the punishments being inflicted are unduly harsh, at least we know who is being punished: criminals, law breakers, those who have shown disregard for the notions of right and wrong. But what if that weren’t the whole story? What if our culture of criminalization had far-reaching, unintended consequences we rarely even see or acknowledge, including forcing innocent people to suffer the loss of their homes, their families, their dignity, even their lives? This is what our culture of mass criminalization has produced. Its impact extends far beyond those who actually use or sell drugs.
Rabia Terri Harris is the founder and director of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, the first Muslim organization specifically devoted to the theory and practice of Islamic nonviolence. In the Name of Allah All-Beneficent Most Merciful It is well known that in Islam, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited. It is less well known that it was not always prohibited. The earliest companions of the Prophet drank wine – as the whole society around them drank wine – as a matter of course. It was only later in the evolution of the community, after trust in God and an aspiration to character development had become better established in the hearts of the faithful, that this particular refinement of behavior was introduced.
Today’s guest blogger is Jonathan Holmes, Policy Specialist at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. People with criminal records face significant barriers in society. A charge or conviction can impact one’s ability to find housing, employment, and stability. The War on Drugs and mass incarceration policies have had a detrimental impact on the lives of many who are seeking to turn their lives around, but because of past records, are unable to provide for their families and be assets to their communities.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, Project Director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy The following letter is being distributed to all Illinois State Senators on Tuesday, May 19 in anticipation of a vote on HB 218. Please call and urge their support. The Illinois State Senate will most likely vote this week on a bill to substitute civil sanctions – a fine, much like a traffic ticket – rather than criminal penalties for possession of very low levels of cannabis. Why should this bill (HB 218) pass? Because it reflects the truth that arrests and jail are the wrong way to respond to those who use drugs. Punishment is not the answer.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Last December, I travelled to Vermont to engage clergy in ending the War on Drugs. The Episcopal Bishop had generously agreed to convene a group of colleagues in his Burlington office. They listened politely and offered constructive responses as I outlined why treating drug use as a crime, rather than a health problem, is morally wrong. When I mentioned that our current drug laws mean that individuals are “marked for life” – with barriers that keep them from ever getting jobs, housing, education and, if they are poor, public assistance and food stamps – the conversation jumped to a whole new level. “I didn’t know that,” the Bishop exclaimed. “We’ve got to educate people about this.”
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