Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor


Dismantling the Punishment Industry
Eastsound, Wash.

In "Is This the End of the War on Crime?" [July 5] Sasha Abramsky rightly gives credit to the Obama administration for shifting antidrug rhetoric away from the "war on drugs" metaphor and toward drug abuse as a public health problem. However, the Obama drug control budget, like Bush’s, still devotes nearly twice as many resources to supply-reduction strategies like arrest and incarceration as it does to demand-reduction strategies like treatment and prevention. As a thirty-four-year police veteran and Seattle’s chief of police from 1994 to 2000, I know that rhetorical shifts cannot solve the huge problems caused by a national policy of prohibition (versus legalized regulation). The president must end this "war on drugs" instead of merely saying he has (see CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com).



Las Cruces, N.M.

Sasha Abramsky is correct: these economic times are likely to spur penal reform, which is typically preceded by a sociopolitical crisis. For 200-plus years each US penal reform intended to diminish inhumane and unjust practices has resulted in widening the net of the punishment system. Also, benevolent penal reforms produce greater government intrusion into punished people’s lives and communities. Not only do they fail to dismantle existing practices and ideologies; they add new punitive dimensions. The outcome has been an ever expanding archipelago of punishments disproportionately targeting the poor, people of color and other marginalized groups.

This pattern includes the penitentiary itself, said to be the ultimate deterrent and the definitive crime fix but which became an intractable growth industry; the adult reformatory, designed to institutionalize treatment and "cure" the prisoner but which generated new "scientific" categories of offenders; and parole, intended to shorten prison sentences but which lengthened them while creating conditional, revocable "freedom" and a new layer of supervision and surveillance outside the prison walls.

There is no reason to expect "restorative justice" to unfold any differently from past penal reforms. Yet as Abramsky notes, it is compelling, and the time is ripe for a movement aimed at smashing an unjust punishment system. Change is possible.

DANA GREENE, Criminal Justice Department
New Mexico State University


 CSP Rebuilds Iraq

 Arlington, Va.

Luke Mogelson’s May 31 "Aiding the Insurgency," regarding USAID’s Community Stabilization Program (CSP) in Iraq, contains incomplete information and misrepresents facts. These errors reflect a not uncommon—but still unfortunate—misunderstanding of how USAID and implementing organizations such as International Relief and Development (IRD) operate in conflict situations.

CSP was designed to mitigate conflict and boost employment through vocational training and job placement, business development, community infrastructure rehabilitation and youth engagement. The community infrastructure rehabilitation component provided Iraqis with immediate income in return for their help in rebuilding their communities. The money and work provided to participants was intended to be an alternative way for them to support their families, rather than relying on the insurgency.

IRD worked with many local partners to implement the community infrastructure rehabilitation component and CSP as a whole. Worldwide, we collaborate with the communities we serve because we believe the most effective programs build local capacity. Contracting with Iraqi firms infused much-needed financial resources and practical skills into midlevel businesses and jump-started the middle class, which is critical to stabilizing any economy. This ensured that the rebuilding of Iraq focused on the men and women of Iraq and their priorities.

To meet the challenges of implementing CSP and ensuring results in the midst of daily conflict, USAID and IRD established thorough checks and balances, including regular audits and independent evaluations of program activity. IRD rejected numerous payment requests to Iraqi contractors during CSP because of incomplete documentation. In addition, IRD acted immediately on any improvements suggested by the auditors.

CSP has been declared a success by many, including beneficiaries and partners in Iraq and government and military leaders in Washington. IRD’s efforts were proven to help stabilize communities across Iraq and help move the Iraqi people toward a better future, and IRD is proud to have helped so many Iraqis. This work is controversial to some. We respect those views and encourage informed dialogue on the issue.

ARTHUR B. KEYS JR., president and CEO
International Relief and Development


 Mogelson Replies

 Brooklyn, N.Y.

I appreciate Arthur Keys taking the time to respond to my article (for which he declined to be interviewed). However, while claiming it contains "errors" and "misrepresents facts," he does not cite any instances of such. The general background he provides on the intent of IRD and the CSP is certainly informative. Of course, none of this negates or explains the problems I described: the vulnerability of cash-for-work programs to fraud, the overemphasis these programs place on statistical outputs and the fact that USAID hesitated to suspend one such program, implemented by IRD, even when several senior military and civilian officials warned that it was enriching the insurgency.

As for Keys’s assertion that "CSP has been declared a success by many," the most thorough analysis of the program’s effectiveness is the audit conducted in 2007 by USAID’s own regional inspector general for Baghdad. It concludes: "The audit was unable to determine if the Community Stabilization Program was achieving its intended result—to help defeat the insurgency by reducing the incentives for participating in it—because we could not rely on one of the major measurements of the program (employment generation)." The inspector general could not rely on this measurement because many of the time sheets in IRD’s possession, accounting for the workers it claimed to be employing, were found to be fraudulent.



 True GRIT, FeSTiVe—Good News!

 New York City

Ben Ehrenreich’s right ["How to Survive the Crisis (Organize!)," Aug. 2/9]. The media that love the Tea Parties ignored the US Social Forum. But credit where it’s due: while the money media stayed away, Free Speech TV (FSTV) and The Nation‘s colleagues at GRITtv were on-site, at the USSF’s People’s Media Center, packed with media new and old. A miraculous grassroots tech collective (shout-out to May First/People Link) made it possible to distribute up-to-the-minute reports—via print, radio, blog, tweet, even live TV.

In a manner barely imaginable just two years ago, FSTV broadcast more than forty hours of live programming on two satellite networks (Dish, channel 9415 and DirecTV channel 348) and online, reaching millions of homes. Our team included progressive journalists and activists Don Rojas, Herb Boyd, Sarah van Gelder, Rosa Clemente and Marc Steiner, along with reporters from the New America Media, Yes magazine, Making Contact and other members of the Media Consortium.

You can see Free Speech TV’s coverage at fstv-ussf.blogspot.com.


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