I took some time out from the great proletarian revolution today to join some smart student activists in lobbying some key Chicago media authorities to oppose the Drug Provision that was added to the Higher Education Act in 1998…..
Under this noxious provision, one of the worst and most transparently racist pieces of legislation currently on the books, federal college student financial aid is denied to anyone who possesses a prior drug conviction.
I can’t really do much better than “Students for a Sensible Drug Policy” in making the case for the repeal of this hideous legislation. Here are that organization’s talking points on the HEA Drug Provision.
“1. Since the Drug Provision was added to the Higher Education Act in 1998, more than 153,000 students have been ineligible for federal educational aid as a result of their response to the question about drug convictions on the FAFSA. (This number does not account for students who the question deterred from applying for aid in the first place.)
2. The HEA Drug Provision hurts the children of low- and middle-income families – the same people the HEA is intended to assist. Students who qualify for federal financial aid receive that aid because tuition costs would otherwise prevent them attending college. The Drug Provision constitutes one more obstacle in their pursuit of the opportunity to overcome the financial restraints which keep them from furthering their education.
3. Removing students’ financial aid and forcing them to leave college increases the likelihood that they won’t return to complete their studies. The Department of Education reports that among students who left four-year colleges before the beginning of their second year, 36% did not return within five years; 50% of those leaving two-year institutions did not return within five years.
4. The HEA Drug Provision usurps the criminal justice system’s authority to administer punishments for violations of the law and punishes individuals twice for the same infraction. Judges already have the discretion on how best hold accountable those who break the law, and, in many cases, have the discretion to revoke a student’s federal educational aid. Officials in Washington who do not and cannot know what is best for individual students should not make blanket policies which overstep the discretion of judges and school administrators to deal appropriately with students who use illegal drugs.
5. Entering or returning to college reduces the likelihood that an individual will return to engaging in illegal activity. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there is an inverse relationship between recidivism rates and education. The Correctional Education Association also reports that prisoners who receive at least two years of higher education have a 10% arrest rate, compared with a national re-arrest rate of about 60%.
6. Minorities are disproportionately affected by the HEA Drug Provision. While African Americans make up 13% of the population and 13% of drug users, they account for 55% of all drug convictions. Accordingly, minority groups have far higher percentages of their members who are ineligible for federal financial aid than whites. Currently, more African American men are in prison than in college.
7. Students who cannot afford college tuition are frequently also unable to afford the private drug rehabilitation required by the HEA Drug Provision to resume eligibility for federal financial aid.
8. The HEA already excludes students receiving lower than a “C” average in their studies from receiving federal financial aid. The drug provision, therefore, only denies aid to students who are doing well in school.”
Okay, it’s me talking again. The top media authority to whom the students activists and I spoke today asked us “why would anyone want a convicted drug offender on a college campus?” Our answer came out of talking point 5: so that we might enhance public safety and cut the huge expenses of mass incarceration ($30,000 per prisoner per year) by reducing ex-offender recidivism. Nothing reduces repeat offenses more than the attainment of some higher education.
Is the HEA Drug Provision really racist? You bet. Classically so. See the shocking difference (noted in talking point 6) between blacks as a percentage of drug users (13% — a match with blacks’ share of the overall US population) and blacks as a share of drug prisoners (55%) in the United States
In 2000, blacks made up 89 percent of drug prisoners but just 15 percent of total population in my home state (Illinois). Sorry but black Americans are not 89 percent of either the drug dealers or the illegal drug users in the Land of Lincoln.
In 2001 and 2002, the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune reported some interesting disparities in Chicago area drug enforcement. When suburban white youth traveled to Chicago’s West Side ghetto to purchase heroin and other illegal narcotics, we learned in late 2001, law enforcement authorities “traced the license plates of [the drug purchasers'] cars and notified the registered owners, often a parent, where the vehicle had been.” By June 2002, Cook County prosecutors increased the level of punishment for the young white surbanites, threatening to impound their automobiles and suspend their drivers’ licenses.
William O’Brien, Chief of Narcotics for the States’ Attorney’s Office gave the following rationale for this “new crackdown,” which contrasted sharply with the prison sentences faced by 15-yeard inner city (predominantly black) youth caught selling narcotics (sentenced as adults if they moved product within 1000 feet of a public housing project or a school): when it comes to automobile-centered suburban kids, O’brien explained, “driving privileges may resonate more than the threat of jail.”
Yeah, okay. I was once a drug-addled delinquent in Ann Arbor, Michigan and as much as I loved my Plymouth Cuda with its 383 engine, 8-Track Cassette (perpetually blaring Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”) and Hurst 4-Speed shifter, I distinctly recall fearing the cell blocks of Jackson State Prison more than the loss of my car.
What O’Brien also left out, of course, is that a felony conviction – and a felony DRUG conviction especially – carries huge negative consequences long after prison. It’s a lifelong marking with deep and many-sided negative implications, including inability to access a federal student college loan.
During one year in the 1990s, Chicago law enforcement made 12,000 drug busts in just one of the city’s west side police districts. It’s a huge and controversial event, however, when local police try to make one drug bust in the dorms of the University of Chicago or Northwestern, where narcotics are certainly enjoyed with no small frequency. It’s called white skin and class privelege.
Such is the arresting reality of racially selective policing that by 2001 contributed (along with racially disparate sentencing and racially unequal access to quality legal defense) to a situation whereby there were 20,000 more black males in Illinois’ prisons than enrolled in the state’s public universities. There were more black males in the state’s prisons just on drug charges than enrolled in the state’s undergraduate degree programs.
Would anyone in the dominant media system care to comment on the relationship between all this and the interesting fact that the moronic messianic militarist Yale and Harvard graduate who is currently enjoying his second term in the White House (the first of which was clearly enabled by the electoral disenfranchisement of black ex-drug-offenders) appears to have benefited from the expungement of a youthful cocaine bust from his criminal record? See J.H. Hatfield, Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President (Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull, 2002), pp. 309-318. Which brings me back to the revolution….
In the meantime, please write your Congressman and US Senator and urge them to support the Removing Impediments to Student Education (RISE) Act. Sponsored by Barney Frank (D-MA) with 50 co-sponsors, the RISE Act will repeal the insanely racist HEA Drug Provision.
Here are some good links to help you in terms of understanding and acting on this issue: