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Child Custody and the Drug War

LWV-Dallas newsletter

by Suzanne Wills, Drug Policy Forum of Texas

In 1970, three years before then President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration, only 5,635 women were incarcerated in the entire United States. Today more than 190,000 are incarcerated, 80% for nonviolent drug law violations. Women are the fastest growing and least violent segment of our prison population. Nearly 12,000 women are incarcerated in Texas. Incarceration on such a scale has profound social consequences. The children of inmates are affected most of all.

About three-fourths of the women in prison have children under the age of 18. Many times the children are sent to live with a grandmother or other relative. When this fails they are sent to foster care. Nearly 30,000 American children are in foster care because their parents are incarcerated.

Under a 1997 federal law, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, states must move to end the rights of parents whose children have been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months. Prison sentences for many women are longer than 15-months meaning they automatically risk losing their children. Inmates often can't attend hearings on whether their parental rights should be terminated. Often they aren't even informed that the hearing will take place.

The intent of the law is to sever parental rights so that children can be placed in stable, adoptive homes. For some children, especially older ones or those with special needs, that never happens. In those cases, the children remain in foster care, but have no contact or information about their parents.

The U.S. is the only nation that routinely moves to terminate the parental rights of incarcerated parents. In Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, children can stay with parents in prison until the age of 3. In Germany, children may stay until they are 6. Termination of parental rights is rare in these countries. American women are imprisoned at 10 times the rate of European women.

States receive $4,000 to $8,000 from the federal government for every foster care adoption above the previous year. More than $192 million has been awarded since fiscal 1998. Texas received $908,000 in 2004.

In 2003 Texas completed 2,444 adoptions from foster care; 3,766 children awaited placement. In August, 2005, 61,433 Texas children were in foster care. The state does not keep records of the number of children who are in foster care and/or are adopted because a parent is imprisoned. This information could be learned if the Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services wrote a program to extract it. A fee would be charged by the Department.

Undoubtedly many children are better off to be adopted than to languish in foster care while waiting for their parent to be released from prison. A person who is burdened by the huge financial constraints and requirements of a convicted felon may never be able to care for a child.

The United States is imprisoning its citizens on an unprecedented scale. Texas is at the forefront. The ramifications of this social experiment should be closely scrutinized.

Sources: "A Law's Fallout: Women in Prison Fight for Custody," Wall Street Journal, 27 Feb 06

"Adoption Efforts at the Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services," Center for Public Policy Priorities

"2005 Data Book," Texas Department of Family and Protective Services

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Be sure to register to vote and find out who is on the ballot in your state . To find out the Lone Star state races go to the Texas voters guide. More information on Congress activities can be found each day on Congress.org.
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Returning troops to front-line duty while they are taking medication such as lithium or Prozac makes me wonder if the method to our military's madness is to use this link between psychotropic drugs and violence.


Drugging Our Children

The ADHD Fraud: How Psychiatry Makes "Patients" of Normal Children Beware, psychiatrists earn more money from drug makers than doctors in any other specialty and there is a link between psychotropic drugs and violence including school violence!

The Texas League of Women Voters has adopted a position on drug law reform. It was a long process started by drug reformers within the Texas LWV. The following is an excerpt from a feature article on STOP THE DRUG WAR, " Texas League of Women Voters Adopts Drug Policy Positions -- Supports Needle Exchange, Medical Marijuana"

According to the consensus position adopted in January 2008, "the League of Women Voters of Texas considers substance abuse and drug addiction public health issues." Texas LWV specifically endorsed preventative education programs to keep kids from starting to use drugs and public education programs directed at adults, as well as needle exchange programs to reduce the incidence of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

The Texas LWV also endorsed medical marijuana. Its position on the issue is: "Laws regarding drug abuse and drug addiction should include no criminal penalties for cannabis (marihuana) possession when recommended by a physician."

The Texas League didn't suddenly wake up one day and decide to study drug policy. Instead, it required individual League members to make it happen. "Noelle Davis from the Austin chapter and I got the state convention to adopt a study," said Suzanne Wills of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and the Ft. Worth chapter of the LWV. "That's the way the League does things. We decide to study the issue, then all the leagues in the area, whether it's local or state or national, are supposed to participate in the study and come to a consensus. If we can't come to consensus on a particular issue, like, for instance, reducing the penalties for adult marijuana possession, we don't adopt a position on that issue."

Sometimes, League chapters or members have to take a more roundabout path to getting an issue studied, said Wills. "With drug policy, the Austin League requested a statewide study of the issue, but the state board didn't recommend it, so Noelle and I had to do some lobbying at the convention, and we managed to get two-thirds of the delegates to adopt it," she said. "That's not how it's typically done, but that's how we got it done."

The League did not adopt consensus positions on some of the more vanguard issues, but drug reformers in the League pronounced themselves satisfied -- for now. "I'm very pleased with the outcome of the study because these are issues that the League can start to advocate for now," said Noelle Davis, who also heads Texans for Medical Marijuana. "These are issues that the legislature is already dealing with, and the League will add a new voice in advocating for these issues."

It would have been preferable to arrive at a stronger drug reform statement, said Davis, but that can come down the road. "In time, more members of the League will be comfortable with broader reforms, but I'm very happy that they came to a consensus on education, medical marijuana, and needle exchange," she said.

What a Texas LWV consensus on certain drug policy issues means in the world of real politics is clout. "The League can now advocate on these issues at the statewide and local level," said Davis. That does not, however, mean the Texas LWV will decide that is the best use of its limited resources. "The League has positions on many issues," Davis said. "The state advocacy chair and advocacy committee will have to decide if drug policy reform is one they want to lobby on."

In Texas, Wills and Davis are waiting to see whether the state League will use some of its organizational resources to advance the drug policy consensus reached by local chapters. "The League has limited resources, so just because it adopts a position doesn't mean it will lobby for it," said Wills. "What we'll do is try to get medical marijuana or needle exchange bills before the legislature again, and then try to get the League lobbyist to work on it."

Write your Texas Legislators! Support TX HB 594, Rep. Elliott Naishtat's affirmative defense bill for medical marijuana patients. It will NOT protect them from arrest or provide a legal way for them to obtain their medicine. However, law enforcement usually does not arrest people they know to be legitimate medical patients.

Animal and human mother's milk are packed full of cannabinoids. Breast milk is the largest natural source of cannabinoids in the world except for the cannabis plant (marijuana/marihuana). The true facts are cannabis plants and our bodies have inborn occurring endocannabinoids or signaling molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors within our brains. Endocannabinoids are essential to nurturing new life. Some scientists speculate that cannabinoids play a protective role in the brain, slowing the rate of disease.

Patients testify to Cannabis' help in treating post traumatic stress, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, gastrointestinal (GI) tract disorders, Alzheimer's, Cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS and more! They swear it is an effective safer replacement for very dangerous pharmaceuticals.

TX HB 594 provides a small amount of comfort to doctors, and patients plus saves taxpayers money. If 5% of 66,117 marijuana arrests in Texas in 2006*, costing Texas taxpayers $655 million, were medical patients, taxpayers wasted $32,750,000 chasing sick people who presented no threat to anyone. And $655 millon arresting people who are doing less harm to their own bodies than those who use alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals!

Support TX HB 184 to remove the possibility of jail time for someone in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. It is morally bankrupt to punish nonviolent adults for making a safer health choice, cannabis or marijuana, compared to other medicinal/social drugs.

The tobacco, alcohol and prescription drug gangs cause more death annually than all illicit drugs! We have better use for our taxes than to spend them having probationers pee in a cup, imprisoning them if they fail. Prisons propagate crime, violence and sexual deviance. Putting nonviolent offenders in this breeding ground is madness.

I am afraid! Violent predators roam free, rape kits go unprocessed, missing children aren't found, schools go under funded, roads need repair while our precious resources are depleted chasing nonviolent drug users.

Less than 1% of US are actually addicted to anything illegal. Treatment is seven times cheaper than prison. Show fiscal responsibility, demand ethical policy!

Restore Justice, the guardian of liberty! Incarcerate more of those morally bankrupt, selling drugs to children or driving intoxicated.

Save lives instead of ruining them. Get tough on violent crime! Drug warriors can get their adrenaline rush chasing murderers and sexual predators.

HB 594 and HB 184 are baby steps toward fiscally responsible, ethical policy but they may be the best hope we have for any protection from this legislative session. Breaking news: the "Texas Medical Marijuana Act of 2013" has been turned in but has not yet been issued a number. Lon Burnam is going to sponsor the bill which would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes and relates to licensing of marijuana related agencies.

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*According to Marijuana in Texas: Arrests, Usage and Related Data by Jon Gettman, Ph.D., October 19, 2009

Current Drug Policy in the Texas Legislature

Texas League of Women Voters adopts position on drug law reform in 2008
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