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Thursday, June 30, 2011 01:41 am

Police arrest 60 on drug war anniversary

About 60 alleged criminals in the Springfield illicit drug trade face charges after a multi-agency sweep of arrests on June 21 and 22, marking the 40th anniversary of the U.S. War on Drugs. But some reformers call that war a failure.

“We all know that the War on Drugs has failed to end drug use,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at a public rally June 17 in Chicago. “Instead, it’s resulted in the incarceration of millions of people around the country…. Drugs and the failed War on Drugs have devastated lives, families and communities.”

Preckwinkle spoke on the 40th anniversary of former President Richard Nixon’s June 17, 1971, declaration that drug abuse is “public enemy number one in the United States.” In early June, the United Nations Global Commission on Drug Policy declared, “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

But the War on Drugs continues in Springfield and nationwide. On June 22, Springfield Police Chief Robert Williams held a joint press conference with representatives from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshalls and Central Illinois Enforcement Group to announce a “Summer Sweep” of 60-plus alleged criminals in the Springfield illicit drug trade. The sweep was part of a special joint effort between local, state and federal law enforcement to curb violence after the rash of Springfield shootings in early April. Officials noted that the individuals believed to be responsible were arrested within days of the shootings, and the Summer Sweep was meant to curb future violence.

Drug charges resulting from the sweep range from possession of cannabis to manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance, along with other charges like residential burglary, failure to register as a sex offender and reckless driving.

Williams said the sweep would serve as an example to other alleged criminals in Springfield.

“Certainly, arrests are not the only solution to reducing crime, but they are a significant component,” Williams said. “The goal of arresting individuals as we did in our Operation Summer Sweep is to send a clear message to the violators that their actions will not be tolerated. Also, it allows the various members of the criminal justice system to work together in concert to impose swift and certain consequences that modify or suppress criminal behavior.”

Though Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser declined to comment to reporters on the effectiveness of the War on Drugs, he did point to the recently started Sangamon County Drug Court, which offers substance abuse treatment and other opportunities for first-time drug offenders.

Kathleen Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy and interim director of the Institute for Metropolitan Affairs at Roosevelt University in Chicago, told Illinois Times that simply sending drug offenders to prison is not effective for stopping drug abuse and controlling the cost of incarceration.

“There’s been a lot of focus on criminalizing what is really a health problem – putting people in prison for substance abuse disorders,” Kane-Willis says. She notes that the War on Drugs is marked by disproportionate incarceration of minorities and the poor, especially in Illinois, which ranked first among all states for disproportionate incarceration by race in 2009. She says there are five African American inmates for every white inmate in Illinois prisons for drug possession.

Instead of incarcerating drug users and drug dealers, Kane-Willis says a different approach emphasizing community involvement has shown better results. Under the “Drug Market Intervention” model (DMI), people arrested for drug possession receive substance abuse treatment instead of prison time, while drug dealers are forced to confront their community and acknowledge the damage caused by the drug trade. Offenders are then offered help finding jobs and social services.

“It’s using the police and the community to say ‘no more’ – that we won’t tolerate this any more,” Kane-Willis says. “It’s holding the community responsible for what happens in the community and holding the police responsible for having positive interactions with the community and working together.” To see the Summer Sweep press release and a list of those arrested, visit http://bit.ly/lYl8Wo.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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