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December 16, 2013

"Vermont's Chief Justice Is Speaking Out Against the Drug War: Is Anyone Listening?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy and notable article I just came across from a Vermont independent paper, Seven Days. Here are excerpts:

In recent weeks, Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber has gone public with an unusually assertive critique of the war on drugs and the “tough on crime” approach that has defined criminal justice for decades.

Reiber, who holds an office in which occupants usually avoid saying anything remotely controversial, has stopped short of recommending policy or criticizing any individuals or government bodies.  But in a pair of speeches and a brief interview with Seven Days, he has declared ineffective the current reliance on police and punishment, and touted the merits of treatment-based models for dealing with crime rooted in substance abuse.

“Even with our best efforts, we are losing ground,” Reiber told a crowd at Vermont Law School last month.  “The classic approach of ‘tough on crime’ is not working in this area of drug policy.  The public responds very well to this ‘tough on crime’ message, but that does not mean it’s effective in changing individual behavior.  If the idea is law enforcement alone will slow and eventually eliminate drug use altogether, that isn’t going to happen … The criminal justice system can’t solve the drug problem.”

Experts note that Reiber’s stance isn’t exactly revolutionary, as judges across the country have become more comfortable in recent years speaking publicly about issues affecting the court system.  But, backers say, his entrance into the politically fraught debate about drug policy lends a powerful voice to their cause....

Statistics from the Vermont judiciary show the root of Reiber’s concern.  Felony filings have jumped nine percent in the past four years, and more than half of that spike came in the form of drug cases.  Abuse and neglect cases, meanwhile, are up 33 percent in the same time frame.  While difficult to pinpoint, experts say many of those cases are children suffering at the hands of drug-addicted parents.  (Reiber said he recently observed a day in Addison County juvenile court, where the docket has grown in recent years, and watched parents who are about to be incarcerated give up their parental rights.)

But Reiber’s two speeches covered more than just Vermont’s swollen court docket.  In his Boston speech, Reiber highlighted reforms in Portugal, which in 2001 abolished criminal penalties for possession of all drugs, and replaced incarceration with drug treatment. Vermont’s chief justice called the results of that experiment “astonishing,” citing a study from the libertarian Cato Institute showing that Portugal experienced a large drop in drug use and a spike in the number of people seeking treatment.

During that speech, Reiber even said that American drug courts — in which nonviolent defendants charged with drug possession are diverted out of the court system and given a chance to turn their lives around — don’t go far enough.  Only broader changes, he said, will have an impact....

When asked if he supported a Portugal-style drug legalization in Vermont, Reiber demurred. “That’s not my job. That’s for somebody else to decide,” he said.  But, as he is doubtless aware, Reiber’s job title assures his comments are assigned more importance by both insiders and the public.

December 16, 2013 at 10:59 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Good for him. How long will we let the Puritans and holier-than-thou hypocrites rule drug policy? We've wasted so many billions of dollars, and we've wasted so many lives. Enough already. Time to end Prohibition altogether--got to the medical model.

Posted by: anon | Dec 17, 2013 9:34:42 AM

// “Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber has gone public .. Reiber, who holds an office in which occupants usually avoid saying anything remotely controversial
.. In his Boston speech …” \\

Yeah, but it’s in Vermont .. & Massachusetts. & perhaps at Barney Frank’s bungalow/bordello..
Seriously?!

It strains credulity at the outset, when one claims a VERMONT Liberal is being iconic or unconventional in declaring a decidedly LIBERAL position, n’est pas?

--Cotton Mather

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 17, 2013 9:42:50 AM

| (Reiber said he recently observed a day in Addison County juvenile court, where the docket has grown in recent years,
and watched parents who are about to be incarcerated give up their parental rights.) |

Right, so let’s decriminalise, & reunite?
O but a’course, treatment would have worked better.

• Prof. Berman or "anon",
Nowhere in this, “this lengthy and notable article”, does Judge Reiber offer one solution?

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 17, 2013 9:44:28 AM

Adamakis --

Now why would you think that self-contradiction is unwelcome in the druggie movement? All that stuff they've been puffing/snorting/mainlining all these years has given them a new outlook on, uh, logic.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2013 11:31:00 AM

We have known since the 70's that drug treatment "cure rates" are abysmal. It is astonishing that this failed course of action is being repackaged as some sort of panacea.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 17, 2013 6:53:12 PM

It's an artificially created scarcity to drive the price up. Drug money is liquidity without which the sydtem.would collapse. Drug laws are tax laws. When realize this the rest becomes obvious.

Posted by: indio007 | Dec 17, 2013 9:12:43 PM

I'm the sister of Timothy Tyler #99672-012 Prisoner of the war on drugs for almost 22 years now. Sentenced to 2 life terms for possession with intent to distribute LSD. Nonviolent deadhead. Tim has served enough time, please let him come home.

Posted by: Carrie Tyler | Dec 24, 2013 9:24:53 AM

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