FAMM has sent some encouraging news recently: that the Senate will be holding a hearing on crack cocaine sentencing issues later this month, and that there are several bills that could possibly address our wasteful policy of locking people up for being addicted to drugs (well, certain drugs). FAMM’s latest newsletter included a story of a FAMM member who died this August after 13 years in federal prison — Alma Mae Groves was 72 when she was arrested for drug possession and being part of a “drug conspiracy” in her rural North Carolina community. She spent the rest of her life in the criminal justice system.
One really has to wonder what’s the usefulness of sentencing a 72-year-old woman to prison for the rest of her life for a nonviolent crime. It reminds me of my interview with Barry Holman for Justice Matters in 2005, where he talked about the folly of locking people up in what he called “nursing homes behind razor wire.” It’s heinous to lock up elders for nonviolent crimes, and especially cruel when it’s for nonviolent crimes related to poverty. Barry specifically talked about how when he looked at the federal prison population more closely:
The survey that we did at NCIA (National Center on Institutions and Alternatives) in 1997 showed that there had been a tremendous increase in the number of older prisoners â€“ a seven-fold increase over the course of a generation. And a majority of all these prisoners over 55 â€“ just over halfâ€“ were in for non-violent convictions. In the Federal system, though, 97% of prisoners over 55 were serving time for non-violent convictions.
Which, yes, means in many cases crimes related to drugs. Thanks to the war on drugs, we’re spending money locking up people of all ages that we would never spend to support them and their families. It’s yet another war that costs way too much and can never be won.