Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Justice for some (very special people)

‘Meehan gets emotional over veterans treatment’
“[U.S. Rep. Patrick] Meehan became noticeably emotional when he discussed how veterans are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, as a result, sometimes struggle with addictions.”  
         Delaware County Daily Times, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012

Deserving and undeserving poor meth heads

So here is our own U.S. Rep. (Probably for Life)* Patrick Meehan getting all weepy over veterans with drug problems and introducing federal legislation to create and fund special veterans “treatment” courts where military veterans will receive all of those things conservatives used to ridicule liberals for – love, understanding, drug treatment, mental health services, “diversion, probation or other supervised release” and a free pass on their criminal behavior – by virtue, and only by virtue, of their military service.   
Meanwhile, since we’ve had this whole “war on drugs” going on totally unsuccessfully for 50 years, every other drug addict/user will continue to be carted off to prison for long prison terms to provide fodder for our prison-industrial complex. 
And even though the medical profession has long defined alcoholism and drug addiction as a medical and not a criminal problem, those non-veteran convicts will get no treatment or rehabilitation, will be put back out on the streets with no education or chance to get a job, and will be barred from applying for welfare, food stamps or unemployment because they -- poor stupid sods -- are not veterans.
This is the government squirming out of our uteruses long enough to establish separate classes of criminals based on nothing more than the government’s determination of who is "deserving” (veterans) and who is “undeserving” (all you other welfare cheating, food stamp-abusing, unemployed, homeless, useless slugs crawling on the face of the Earth).  Ronald Reagan lives!
I’m not saying that veterans’ treatment courts are a bad idea.  They’re a great idea, but they should be available for everyone.  Study upon study over decades has shown that making treatment available to addicts immediately is a far better and cheaper means of cutting recidivism than throwing addicts in jail and tossing away the key. 
A veterans’ treatment court in Buffalo, N.Y., seems to be proving the point.  Since it began three years ago, it reportedly has a zero recidivism rate.
But we all know what happens in the real world, don’t we? Drug treatment programs never get funded, never get adequate funding and are the first government service that is cut. 
Addicts who make the big decision to get clean have to wait for months or years to get into a program, but which time they have fallen back off the wagon, or they get thrown in jail for non-violent crimes.

Separate but unequal

No one offers ordinary drug users mental health care, or help with housing or jobs.  Worse, there are bills going through state legislatures all over the country, including Pennsylvania, to force drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients (and I assume that includes unemployment and food stamps). 
So even if drug abusers can get a slight, tenuous grip on the social safety net, there’s a whole lot of Republicans ready to kick them off.  These are the same Republicans who are shedding crocodile tears over and setting up a separate justice system for veterans because, God knows, supporting anything for veterans looks great in an election year.
I’m all for helping veterans, but is there anyone besides me in the whole universe that sees these veterans’ treatment courts as illegal and unconstitutional?  The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

But that's exactly what separate and unequal veterans' court seem to do: deprive non-veterans of their liberty and property (imprisonment, confiscation of homes and cars) while making veterans a separate class of offenders who will be treated very differently because, after all, they sacrificed for us. That's not due process or equal protection.

Special courts aren’t just for certain people

We have long had specialized courts – juvenile, domestic relations, family, civil, criminal, equity, immigration, small claims, landlord-tenant – for handling specific types of problems, but the difference between these courts and the veterans treatment courts is that these courts are open to all who fall into those categories.
There are not separate juvenile courts for 10 year olds as opposed to 11 year olds.  There are not immigration courts just for Mexican immigrants or just for Canadian immigrants.  Everyone has access and everyone is treated the same.  That is the essence of equal protection under the law.   
But special drug courts just for veterans, where they can get treatment and a helping hand instead of incarceration, is a very different animal.  It is the exact opposite of equal protection of the law.  It is creating a privileged class of criminals.  
By the way, will these veterans’ treatment courts cover Vietnam veterans, hundreds of thousands of whom have been homeless, drug-addled and mentally ill for decades without anyone giving a crap?   If the term “veteran” covers them, I hope they can prove after all these years that they too served their country, even though it is rather late to provide any help for them. 

PTSD is PTSD, no matter how you get it

Yes, soldiers come home with PTSD which may lead them to abuse alcohol and drugs.  But here’s a news flash for you: civilians also suffer from PTSD that may lead them to abuse alcohol and drugs.
If your father sexually abuses you the whole time you are growing up, if Dad beats Mom like a drum every week, if you grow up seeing your single mom doing drugs and engaging in prostitution to survive, if you see your friends shot down in the streets and the only thing you can do is build street corner shrines and plan your own funeral, you too might develop PTSD. 
And if you have no income, no job, no welfare, no unemployment, no prospects, you’ll turn to the only sources of income available to you, which is usually selling drugs or your body.   Or you can, of course, always join the military.

Where is the ACLU now that we need it?

You would think that the American Civil Liberties Union would be concerned about the14th Amendment.  A couple of state chapters have raised objections, but as this reference from the ABA Journal says, the Illinois ACLU is fine with a new Chicago veterans’ court:

In Cook County, vets charged with less serious felonies such as drug offenses are offered the chance to have their cases heard in the special court....  The vets don’t get special treatment under the law, but they get assistance with drug treatment, housing, health care and job training.

Wait, what?! That whole “assistance with drug treatment, housing, health care and job training” thing sounds like “special treatment under the law” to me.  I’m pretty sure that non-vets don’t get that kind of help in our nation’s court systems.  If they did, there would be no need to set up separate courts for veterans, because everyone would already be getting all the help Pat Meehan thinks only veterans deserve. 

*Just reminding readers that the abominable, egregious, outrageous, unconstitutional Republican-engineered redistricting of the Pennsylvania 7th U.S. Congressional District probably guarantees Meehan that seat as long as he wants it.  Good luck finding Woodchoppertown there, Pat.  

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