Guest post by Jeffrey Marty
I practiced criminal defense almost 10 years, both privately and in two public defender’s offices. The vast majority of my criminal cases, over 90%, involved drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.
When we talk about securing the border, the costs of leaving it open aren’t just in jobs taken by illegal immigrants and government assistance for asylum seekers, they’re also felt throughout entire communities that are able to easily access drugs like fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine from Mexico.
The costs of addiction to these drugs include billions of dollars per year in lost productivity, broken lives, broken families, and a gigantic strain on public services.
There is something special about the harder drugs. Addiction to them causes a near-complete takeover of the brain, which in turn leads to an erosion of every other area of life over time. Addicts go from occasional use to daily use, from getting the drugs at a party to getting them on skid row, from having a job to becoming unemployable, from having children to having them taken away, from living in an apartment to living on the street, and from living on the street to living in prison.
During this process, there is a narrowing of options in every area. Once an addict becomes unemployable due to the drug addiction itself and/or the stigma of arrest, that often leads to rapidly reducing or no income at all, limited future options in both work and housing (both usually involve financial and criminal background checks), leaning on family for support, and when that grows thin, moving to a “skid row” type of neighborhood and committing crimes to support the addiction.
This ripple effect of drug addiction defies statistics. For example, stealing is called “theft” in the law, but a more accurate description would include the drug itself, such as “heroin-seeking retail theft” or “methamphetamine-induced residential burglary.” The vast majority of the clients I represented for theft-related crimes were stealing to get the most addictive drugs, which in turn increased the cost of products in stores, as well as a variety of other costs that we all share, such as higher home, business, and auto insurance rates.
Many of the cases I’ve seen involving aggressive violent crimes, such as aggravated assault with a weapon or strangulation, involved aggression-inducing drugs like methamphetamine, spice, or cocaine.
The really bizarre cases, such as breaking into a house to steal crafting supplies or spray painting someone’s face, were almost always connected to psychosis-inducing drugs like methamphetamine or spice.
Some people are just psychopaths (formally termed “antisocial personality disorder,” which, coincidentally, also describes the behavioral patterns of a hard drug addict). After having many conversations with “dangerous” criminals, who had sobered up by the time I talked to them in jail, I don’t believe that many of the more violent criminals would commit violent crimes like these if they weren’t under the influence of drugs at the time, especially when groups of people are involved in the same crime and a drug-induced stupor leads to stupid ideas like committing a home-invasion robbery. There are some genuine psychopaths, but they’re usually built–not born that way.
Many of the most legitimately dangerous defendants I came into contact with had a parent and/or foster care provider who engaged in physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect, which itself is often related to drug addiction. Extreme trauma caused by a child being abused or neglected, and then taken away from a parent and thrown into foster care, can result in horrific outcomes for the child later on.
I’ve seen foster kids who completely stopped talking, who ate compulsively and became obese, who refused to do anything except watch the same few movies over and over again, who became enraged over the slightest provocation, and who became extremely manipulative to get things from adults. The kids entering the foster care system can be as small as newborns, which at least don’t see their world fall apart. How can we expect a sweet little 7-year-old to adjust to being shuffled around different foster homes, with lousy care and no love at all? It’s not just a bad thing–it’s horrific.
As much as we’d like to believe that virtue signaling with nice words and proper opinions about problems is the same thing as solving problems, mitigating the damage done to these kids usually requires someone actually stepping up and loving the traumatized child, which can’t be bought with money. I remember an uncle who took in his nephew out of obligation. Over time, he came to regard the boy as God’s blessing to him, and adopted him, because his own life had become so meaningless with no one to share it with. Such stories exist, but they’re usually the exception to the rule in a sea full of for-profit care providing, which is about as ominous as it sounds.
The majority of drug-related crime is either in neighborhoods where most people are addicts or in the periphery near these areas. Crimes in these areas are rampant, with today’s victim becoming tomorrow’s witness and the next day’s perpetrator. Savagery is tolerated much more than it would be elsewhere, due to uncooperative witnesses and a culture that doesn’t tolerate “snitches,” mostly due to the prevalence of crime in general. If nearly everyone in a drug-infested area is doing something illegal, then inviting in the police puts everyone else in danger of arrest.
People in these areas need a lot of government services, whether due to bad circumstances, addiction, or someone else’s addiction. Even the most ardent believer in “free will” in drug addiction has to recognize that the kids are innocent victims while they’re still kids. We can’t let them starve or die from an illness, so we have subsidized school lunches, food stamps for groceries, and Medicaid for healthcare. Making too much money can cause a responsible or recovering parent to lose all of these benefits, so there is an incentive to not make too much by trying too hard, which perpetuates the need to remain below the poverty line.
Schools in these areas are usually pretty lousy, due both to the home lives of the kids as a group, but also due to the strain on school resources that comes from having lots of kids with learning disabilities and behavioral problems. The most inspiring teachers I’ve ever seen are in schools like these, but they’re working against a whole lot of abusive or neglectful parenting and the for-profit foster care system, so addiction is more likely to become generational, and include the normalization of other criminal behavior (such as referring to being charged as “catching” a case, and having parents or other relatives in prison). When addiction and crime are that familiar, a lot of kids fit in better with their peers by not doing well in school and trying to succeed. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’ve seen people on the first arrest, when they’re scared half to death, and more likely to be compliant with intervention efforts, and others at the end of the line, after 20-30 years of revolving door prison stints, when they don’t care about anything anymore. While there is a lot of fancy language to describe “recidivism,” there is one constant with drug-related recidivism: the availability of drugs.
The things we want to work, such as drug court and pretrial diversion, do work to a certain extent. They can relieve a person of a felony conviction if he or she completes a rehab program and a period of monitoring by probation agents, usually for one year. I’ve seen many people violate drug tests and get sent to jail while participating in these programs. I’ve seen some people skip the programs altogether and take the conviction, just so they can do jail time and get back out to using drugs quicker.
I’ve had parents beg me to make sure my client stays inside jail or prison, because getting out means immediately getting the drugs again and dying in the street. That sounds impossible to fathom, until you’ve seen the cycle of arrest, incarceration, and reoffending enough times. After a while, even the parents think it’s better to protect the child from what’s out there by having him rot away in a correctional facility instead of risk certain re-arrest or death in the community, due to the availability of drugs. I’ve had drug addict clients who got out on probation and immediately violated by heading for the nearest dope house–never even bothering to report.
If some people are willing to act so rashly, literally watching their veins collapse while shooting up heroin, losing all of their teeth in order to keep smoking meth, and even to lose their lives by using either one, then maybe the only solution for some people is either endless incarceration or to try stopping the supply.
And here’s where border security matters. Most of the hard drugs, such as methamphetamine and heroin, come in through the southern border with Mexico. For example, Mexico is responsible for providing 90% of the US heroin supply.
Although hard drugs are likely more prevalent in border states like California, where you can see someone nodding off on heroin at the local Starbucks (which I did personally a few weeks ago), they don’t stop there. Areas thousands of miles from the border are being wrecked by drugs coming through California and Texas. For example, ten percent of the entire population of Baltimore is addicted to heroin, and Baltimore has the 5th highest crime rate in the country.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Baltimore, and almost all large cities, tend to vote exclusively for Democrats, who promise to expand the government assistance programs that are often made much more necessary due to widespread drug addiction, such as food stamps, disability, earned income tax credits, government-paid drug rehabilitation, and special education in schools. In the places that need these things most, there is also usually great hostility to police, rampant crime, and facilitation of addiction in general, such as providing clean needles to shoot up, limited policing and arrests in skid row areas, and special containers for the dirty needles after the heroin is injected.
The bizarre refusal of Democratic Party leaders to even try to secure the border makes it appear that they’re either (1) in direct collusion with Mexican drug cartels and human traffickers, (2) so incredibly dense that they can’t see the problems that unfettered access to hard drugs creates, or (3) so opportunistic that they want to capitalize on drug addiction by receiving more votes from constituents who are dependent on federal aid programs, as well as campaign donations from government contractors who get rich providing costly back-end services to drug addicts.
I don’t understand how they can call a border barrier “immoral” today, but as recently as 2006, they were all for it. Sen. Chuck Schumer actively campaigned for the “Secure Fence Bill,” which did provide “secure fences” and a corresponding 90%+ drops in illegal crossings in places like Yuma and San Diego–proving that “fences work.” The implementation of the original bill was watered down so much that half of the “secure” fence was reduced to 3-4 foot “vehicle barriers” in the middle of nowhere, which wouldn’t stop anyone on foot.
Between 2006 and right now, the annual number of overdose deaths doubled, from 35,000 to 72,000 per year. That’s a good reason to keep building fences–not to declare barriers “immoral.”
If we refuse to even try to stop the flow of drugs that come in illegally through Mexico, how can we know what works? And how can we agree to a cycle of addiction for millions of American citizens, including thousands of American children who are “separated from their parents” for more than a few days–oftentimes permanently cast out into a lifetime of hopelessness and misery?
No one ever mentions these kids on CNN. No one talks about the costs of drug addiction in terms of failed kids and failed communities. No one mentions how many of these government programs could radically shrink in size if we managed to stop the reason they’re so large in the first place–the immediate availability of hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine in most cities throughout the US.
Maybe the Democrats don’t want it stopped.
If we can’t build a barrier to keep people and drugs out, increase searches at points of entry, and try to reduce the influx of drugs, our communities are doomed anyway.
We should at least try.