By Limus Woods
Oregon is only 2% African-American, but 9% of this ethnic group makes up the entire jail population there. Recently, legislators from the Beaver State passed a bill to decriminalize certain street drugs, meaning that someone arrested for having small amounts of these substances would face less jail time and/or pay lighter fines. There are so many cases where many of these prisoners are locked up because of minor drug offenses, and they receive felony charges as a result of them. And, many times these arrests were not made because the person was selling the drug, but because they had it in their possession and were very likely using and were addicted to it. The lawmakers in Oregon are beginning to feel, instead of being imprisoned for these small charges, that rehabilitation for these offenders from their apparent substance abuse is a better option.
Some of the drugs that the Oregon lawmakers are focusing on reducing penalties for are methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine. According to American Addiction Centers statistics, over 21 million people (some who were as young as 12-years-old) had some sort of substance abuse addiction in 2014. They also found that when it came to illegal drugs such as heroin, the amount of users between the ages of 18 and 25 doubled the decade before. Prescription drugs and opioids are what people are beginning to abuse the most in 2017, and, according to experts, a few years ago over two million children and adults from 11-years-old on up had an opioid addiction. Statistics like these show why rehabilitation is a much better choice than incarceration, and why funds that would probably be used to build more prisons should instead be put towards curing these people of their extremely deadly drug habits.
The worst part for many prisoners about being arrested for having a small amount of illegal drugs is sometimes not the time in jail, but the collateral consequences that come after they are released. That felony charge will disqualify them for things that they could need to get back on their feet once they are let out, such as public housing and education assistance. There are many instances where an ex-prisoner will be out looking for a job and wanting to work, but because of the felony charge will be denied for certain licenses they need to perform that particular job. There are also cases where the charge may even deny them their parental rights.
There are already so many barriers that an ex-offender has to deal with once they get out of jail, such as returning to poverty or the fact that they have a very low education. Having a felony charge makes this already bad situation worse, one that many experts refer to as a ‘civil death’.
According to Study.com, a ‘civil death’ is when a person (even someone who was hit with a very minor felony charge for, say, a small amount of cocaine in their possession) loses various rights and privileges that citizens usually enjoy freely. So many of these ex-offenders are from low-income neighborhoods, but they probably won’t even be able to get SNAP benefits (food stamps) or other kinds of public assistance. Many of them feel as if their voice has been actually cut off from society being that they aren’t allowed to vote. And, if they decided they wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer, they couldn’t, because the charge also can deny them the right to become either one.
Lewis, N. 11 July 2017. Oregon bill decriminalizes possession of heroin, cocaine and other drugs. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/07/11/oregon-legislature-passes-bill-decriminalizing-heroin-cocaine-meth-possession-hoping-to-curb-mass-incarceration/?utm_term=.b43f61720ba6
2017. Statistics on Drug Addiction. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved from http://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics/
Nolan, P. Collateral Consequences of Felony Convictions. Prison Fellowship. Retrieved from
Norwood, M. Civil Death, Definition and Law. Study.com. Retrieved from http://study.com/academy/lesson/civil-death-definition-law-lesson.html
Limus Woods is a Professional Writer/Editor and member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors (IAPWE https://www.iapwe.org/9061511.html). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.