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Obama: Drug Addiction is a Disease, Not a Crime

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By Valencia Mohammed, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

The Office of National Drug Control Policy hosted a media briefing on Nov. 20, to highlight the Obama Administration’s unprecedented approaches to addressing drug addiction.

Ben Tucker, deputy director for State, Local, and Tribal Affairs set the tone by giving stats about how costly criminalizing drug use has been.

“The Department of Justice released new data showing that drug use cost our society about $193 billion a year. Fifty six billion of those dollars can be traced directly back to costs associated solely with the criminal justice system,” said Tucker.

The deputy pointed out that contributing to this immense cost are the more than seven million people in the United States who are under the supervision of the criminal justice system with more than two million behind bars.

For states and localities across the country, the costs of managing these populations have grown significantly. Between 1988 and 2009, state corrections spending increased from $12 billion to more than $50 billion per year.

“African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses. These two groups have consistently higher proportions of inmates in state prison who are drug offenders compared to Whites - about 50 percent higher among these minorities compared to Whites,” said Tucker.

“As our nation works to recover from the greatest recession we’ve had, we must do everything we can to lessen the harm that drug offenses and drug use have on the health, safety, and economic potential of our nation and our fellow citizens.”

Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy outlined unprecedented actions being undertaken by the Obama Administration to address this challenge by breaking the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration and re-arrest.

The Obama Administration’s approach to criminal justice drug policy is guided by three facts; that addiction is a disease that can be treated; people can recover and new interventions are needed to appropriately address substance abuse and drug-related crime.

“We cannot arrest our way out of our nation’s drug problem and while new strategies are being implemented there is more to do,” said Kerlikowske.

This last fiscal year, the Obama Administration spent $10.4 billion on drug prevention and treatment programs compared to $9.2 billion on domestic drug enforcement.

August, 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. This important and long-overdue criminal justice reform dramatically reduced a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine, which disproportionately affected minorities.

The administration is implementing the Second Chance Act, which provides funding for programs that improve coordination of reentry services and policies at the state, tribal, and local levels, including demonstration grants, reentry courts, family-centered programs, substance abuse treatment, employment, mentoring and other services.

Expansion of drug courts, which place non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison.

Last year, the Department of Justice awarded $100 million to support 178 state and local reentry grants to provide a wide range of services and in late September awarded another $83 million to 118 new grantees.

Encouragement to housing authorities nationally to lease to offenders returning to the community and to ensure that they understand that they have the discretion to lease to all but two specific classes of felon.

The Attorney General issued a letter to state attorneys general to urge them to review the legal collateral consequences of their state laws being placed upon ex-offenders that may burden their successful reentry into society.

“I also encourage states to take our lead in support the funding of effective alternatives to incarceration. By implementing a range of innovative, yet proven public health and public safety interventions, we can save taxpayer dollars and improve outcomes and break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration,” said Kerlikowske.

Redonna Chandler, chief of services research branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, closed by stating that harsh punishments including lengthy incarcerations, boot camps, and intense supervision alone do not alleviate addiction. “Effective treatment helps the offender change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors with regard to both drug use and criminality,” Chandler said.

She suggested numerous approaches including cognitive behavioral therapy where participants learn positive social and coping skills; contingency management approaches help break down long-term treatment goals into smaller steps and motivational enhancement interventions and medications.

The Community Impact of Supercommittee Failure

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By Yanick Rice Lamb, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Dysfunction turned out to be Kryptonite for the supercommittee.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 gave six Democrats and six Republicans the power to come up with a plan to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion before the Congressional Thanksgiving recess. However, lawmakers bickered while the market fell.

“It would be a sad commentary on our state of affairs if a decade-old political pledge to a corporate lobbyist were allowed to prevent bipartisan progress on our nation’s most pressing issues,” James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., one of the “Super 12” and Assistant Democratic Leader of the House, said in a statement. “Yet with massive across-the-board budget cuts hanging over us like the sword of Damocles, that seems a possible outcome.”

Amid global skittishness fueled partly by the debt crisis in Europe, the supercommittee’s impasse was linked to a 2.5 percent drop in the Dow Jones industrial average, which fell roughly 300 points to 11,500 around noon Monday. It also meant no extensions, at the moment, for unemployment benefits or payroll tax cuts.

With no super heroes to save the day, Democrats are blaming Republicans, and Republicans are blaming Democrats. They clashed primarily over tax breaks for the wealthy and spending cuts for domestic programs from Social Security to health care.

“The claim that Medicare, Medicaid and other health-care costs are major drivers of our debt crisis is an overstatement,” said Alfred Chiplin Jr., managing attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington, D.C. “We must be sure that philosophical differences about the nature, role and size of government are not taken out on the backs of the poor, the elderly, those with disabilities or on children.”

The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) also opposes cuts in domestic programs and had been encouraging citizens to “tell the supercommittee NO cuts to HIV/AIDS programs” as lawmakers made 11th hour efforts to reach some sort of face-saving measure.

“NMAC opposes any cuts to discretionary budget line items, which fund domestic or global HIV/AIDS programs,” said Kali Lindsey, the council’s director of legislative and public affairs.

“Research advancements demonstrate that thoughtful and strategic investments along with assured access to necessary care, treatment and support services can bring an end to the HIV epidemic in the United States and around the globe.”

Sentiment among the general public seemed to mirror that of their elected officials, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats opposed spending cuts in the poll released on Monday, while 59 percent of Republicans were against tax increases. Republicans favor extending the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2012, from 39.6 percent to 28 percent for the wealthiest Americans.

Among independent voters surveyed, seven in 10 favor cuts in domestic spending and increases in taxes on corporations and wealthy people. About six in 10 of all respondents are against reductions in defense spending.

If the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure to act leads to across-the-board cuts in 2013, also known as sequestration, some politicians might be relieved that voters technically couldn’t blame them at the ballot box next November for tampering with pet programs. Without legislative action in the interim, the automatic cuts would be split between defense and non-defense programs.

“Some programs will be exempted from the sequestration process that will benefit people living with HIV or AIDS, including Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps (SNAP), and Medicare's cut is limited to no more than 2 percent,” Lindsey explained.

“However, hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV or AIDS or in need of prevention services will be harmed with cuts to discretionary programs that fund programs like the Ryan White health-care programs, the already strained AIDS Drug Assistance Program and HIV prevention efforts funded at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Chiplin says that health-care reform could save the nation a great deal of money in the long run. “If we let health-care reform through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) work, we will see a general slowing of the rate of increase in health-care costs,” he said.

“The ACA has many cost-containment features that should help to rein in health-care costs over time, including payment and service-delivery model changes, such as exploring and implementing accountable care organizations, paying only for care that has a demonstrated value, focusing on prevention and care coordination (particularly as a tool to address health disparities) and pursuing strategies to address the problem of unnecessary procedures and services.”

Penn State Scandal Similar to Boston Red Sox Manager Molestation of Black Boys

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Long before news broke of the Penn State sex scandal, it has now been revealed that between 1971 and 1991, Donald Fitzpatrick, a former Boston Red Sox manager, systematically abused and molested dozens of African American boys in their hometown of Winter Haven, Florida, where the baseball team held their Spring training.

"He grabbed me and told me to take my clothes off," Leeronnie Ogletree, who said Fitzpatrick lured him into years of molestation when he was just 10, told thepostgame.com. "I'll never forget him putting his mouth on my penis. I don't mind telling it now because I'm over it. But that stands out. And I'll never forget it."

It took decades for the truth to come out about Fitzpatrick, who is White, and his criminal desire for young Black boys, according to The Huffington Post. In 2003, the Boston Red Sox settled a $3 million federal lawsuit brought against them by Ogletree and seven other men from Winter Haven who said Fitzpatrick repeatedly molested them as boys.

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who handled Ogletree’s case against Fitzpatrick and the Boston Red Sox, said the similarities between the Penn State and Red Sox scandals are startlingly similar, the Post reported. There were cover-ups, denials and the enabling of pedophiles to use the power of their institutions to prey on the weak, in the Red Sox case, "poor black boys," he said. The kinds of youth often considered society's "throwaways."

"You have these sports institutions; you have all these people of authority; you have all this public support for these institutions and hear talk about what great institutions they are, but then when you ask them to do the right thing and have compassion for these young people, the institutions deny, deny, deny," Crump, of Parks & Crump, told The Huffington Post. "They sweep it under the rug and they look the other way."

According to reports, former Red Sox players such as Jim Rice and Sammy Stewart got wind of Fitzpatrick's deeds and would warn kids in the clubhouse to avoid him, the Post reported. In 1971, one of Fitzpatrick's victims came forward to the team, and in a manner similar to Penn State's handling of the Jerry Sandusky allegations, the team did not alert authorities or fire Fitzpatrick.

Black Women Confront HIV Stigma, Health and Funding Disparities at USCA

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By Rod McCullom, Special to the NNPA from the Black AIDS Institute –

This year the U. S. Conference on AIDS (USCA), the largest HIV/AIDS gathering in the nation, targeted its offerings toward men who have sex with men. But during the meeting sponsored by the National Minority AIDS Council, many Black women--from prevention and policy experts to those living with HIV/AIDS--aggressively pursued programming and issues that focused on their demographic.

“It’s time to mobilize around the lack of funding and resources targeting women living with HIV in the United States," said Amanda Lugg, director of advocacy and mobilization of the New York City-based African Services Committee.

The USCA did “a very good job with multiple targets. There was a segment targeting women and I am ecstatic that next year’s conference will focus on women,” said Texas Woman’s University assistant professor Kimberly A. Parker, Ph.D., M.P.H., C.H.E.S. “But we need to do more.”

Infection rates among Black women are nearly 15 times higher than those among White women. But while in 2009 Black women accounted for about “30 percent of the estimated new HIV infections among all Blacks," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “we don’t receive 30 percent of the funding,” said Lugg. “There is a huge divide between the face of the epidemic and funding for HIV prevention and research. It’s very important to monitor how CDC utilizes resources and how the National HIV/AIDS Strategy will affect women.”

HIV Rates Rising Among Black Women in Rural States

“There are huge disparities in rural states such as Iowa,” said Taz Clayburn, community-outreach coordinator at the AIDS Project of Central Iowa. “African Americans are only 2.8 percent of the population but 56 percent of our state's HIV and AIDS cases.”

“We're seeing a huge increase in infections among African-American women in Des Moines,” Clayburn added. “It’s important to link African-American women to care and persuade them to motivate themselves as a priority. As Black women, we don’t take care of ourselves--we take care of everybody else first.”

Blacks account for 50 percent of HIV infections in rural counties, according the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, whose research suggests that the rural epidemic may be shifting toward African-American women.

To complicate matters: “Since Iowa is considered a ‘low incidence' state, we've lost 55 percent of our prevention funding starting January 1," Clayburn added.

It’s a similar story in the southwest, where Blacks are few in number but disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. Blacks are only four percent of Arizona’s population but are three times as likely to become infected, reported the East Valley Tribune which adds: “The HIV rate for Black women in Arizona is nearly nine times higher than that for white women.”

“The Black community is very small here, but we’re targeting resources to Black women and Black men who have sex with men,” said Kathy Donner, HIV prevention manager at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Everyone Has a Story”

“First the epidemic was first thought of as only affecting white gay men,” added Clayburn. “Then gay men, now African-American gay men. When will women become a priority?”

Dr. Parker led a workshop entitled “What’s Next and What’s Needed with HIV Research with Women?” “Nine out of ten Black women are contracting HIV through heterosexual contact," Dr. Parker said. "So to understand Black women and the epidemic, we also must address their partners. And for Black women, socially and historically it’s going to be Black men.”

“We’re not comfortable discussing sex and sexuality in the Black community,” said Dr. Parker. “In order to de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS, we have to de-stigmatize sex and learn to discuss it in a healthy manner.”

A reception and screening of the “Everyone Has Story” video training series developed by Atlanta-based SisterLove, which has been lauded for its community-based risk-reduction strategy, addressed this stigma. The videos “empower Black women who are HIV-positive to share their stories and manage their condition,” said SisterLove founder and president Dázon Dixon Diallo. The event was hosted by Diallo and Emmy-nominated actress Vanessa Williams.

“For the past 22 years, Sister Love has created interventions that celebrate women’s sexuality while teaching us to be safe,” explained Diallo. “It is hard for many women to say, ‘I am a sexual human being.’ Now they can say, ‘As long as I have all the tools to keep myself safe, I can be, do and have whatever I want!’”

Atlanta resident Phyllis Malone was featured in one of the videos, which were produced by Merck. “It’s amazing and empowering to see myself on the screen,” she said to applause.

“I was diagnosed in 1996. I went to jail and was in prison,” Malone said. “When I was released, SisterLove gave me transitional housing and later helped me find a house! I stopped taking my meds for about two years. But I returned to SisterLove. I don’t want to forget my story. My past made me who I am today.”

Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his reporting has appeared in Ebony, The Advocate, Colorlines and other media. Rod blogs on politics, pop culture and Black gay news at rod20.com.

More than 100 Black Colleges, Universities Fighting Proposed Spending Cuts

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

A coalition of more than 100 colleges and universities are fighting to persuade Congress and the special supercommittee not to cut $85 million or more in federal funding. The coalition consists of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

These organizations, which collectively represent the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and 50 Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), are opposing proposals that will cut federal funds to HBCUs by $85 million or more and would zero out support for PBIs. Coalition representatives said the proposed funding cuts would come on top of $30 million in cuts already made in HBCU funding.

"The colleges that would have to absorb these cuts serve students who employers are counting on as the next generation of engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors and nurses," said Michael L. Lomax, UNCF president and CEO. "Their education is being threatened at the worst possible time--in the midst of an economic downturn that is already making it hard for them to stay in school and graduate."

Colleges face a double-barreled threat. Funding cuts could be contained in the supercommittee recommendations or made through the normal appropriations process for the current fiscal year. The three organizations support funding levels contained in an appropriations bill passed by a Senate Appropriations Committee for the Departments of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education. They oppose the sharply-lower levels proposed by House appropriators.

The coalition seeks to rally students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and all supporters of HBCUs and PBIs to get their senators and representatives to persuade supercommittee members not to cut the deficit by disinvesting in higher education. The supercommittee has until November 23 to submit recommended budget reductions and revenue increases.

"Cutting federal support for HBCUs would shoot an already-weak economy in the foot," said TMCF President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. "In addition to the students they educate, they impact more than 180,000 jobs, including professors, counselors, staff members and others. Local businesses and national companies depend on the money that the colleges, their employees, and students spend. Their total economic impact is estimated at over $13 billion."

NAFEO, TMCF and UNCF have been leading a tough fight to gain support of Members of Congress to ensure they understand the consequences additional budget cuts will have for HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). In April of 2011, this coalition marched on Capitol Hill and urged support for protecting the maximum funding for Pell Grants, continuing funding for Title III, Part B (undergraduate and graduate programs) and Title III Part A, and continuing funding for the HBCU Capital Financing Program.

In October of this year, HBCU presidents visited the District to advocate for HBCUs, and MSIs, and urged protection of HBCU and PBI funding through Fiscal Year 2012 and the supercommittee deliberations. In October, more than 10,000 HBCU students wrote letters thanking the Obama Administration for its support for full funding for HBCUs and telling their stories of how federal funding for HBCUs is enriching their educational experience.

"Republican and Democratic Presidents have made funding HBCUs a national priority as have successive bipartisan majorities in Congress, in recognition of the fact that HBCUs and PBIs are vitally important to stimulating the economy, preparing excellent, diverse, workers, putting Americans back to work, and meeting the human services needs of traditionally underserved communities," said NAFEO President and CEO Lezli Baskerville.

"HBCUs are great national resources of leadership in the sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, education, health and the environment. They contain costs at a time when the costs of college are increasingly beyond the reach of the masses. HBCUs and PBIs are the best return on investment in the higher education arena. It would be disconcerting if Congress or the Super committee decides to reduce the deficit without raising revenues and by cutting funding for HBCUs and PBIs, the primary incubators of diverse human capital to make the nation thrive."

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