Movie Review: The House I Live In

The House I Live In is a documentary about the war on drugs in the United States.  You can watch it online through various vendors.  I paid $3.99 to rent it via YouTube.

Here are the most interesting things I learned or relearned from the movie:

  • We incarcerate more people per 100,000 people than Saudi Arabia and China, combined.  We have 5% of the population in the world, but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.Since 1980, our prison and jail population has gone from 500,000 to more than 2.3 million.
  • We have spent $1 trillion and arrested 45 million people in the war on drugs.
  • There are 500,000 people incarcerated in the US for nonviolent drug offenses.
  • The film featured folks serving 12 years, 20 years, and, wait for it, LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE for drug offenses.  There are approximately 92 people in Oklahoma serving LWOP for a drug offense because they had two prior offenses.  Note, in California, it was possible until recently for someone to serve 25 to life for a drug offense.
  • 2.7 million kids in the US have at least one parent incarcerated.
  • When someone is released from prison, he has a conviction so cannot get a job. He is ineligible for federal loans, so he cannot go to college.  He is ineligible for government subsidized housing because of the conviction, and he cannot live with a family member who has subsidized housing because that will disqualify them for their housing.  And we expect this person to do what to make a living and put a roof over his head?
  • Clinton sucks.  Not only did he allow ADEPA to pass (not in film), he made it so any felony drug conviction (e.g. possession of marijuana in many states) was a lifetime bar from obtaining welfare.  He enacted a federal version of 3 strikes. 
  • A person driving a truck with Arizona plates in Magdalena New Mexico while getting fast food fits the profile of a drug trafficker, according to a deputy in the film.
  • There is an extremely lucrative financial interest by the state et al in fighting the war on drugs including:
    • police/the state seize cash and cars from suspected drug traffickers, even if that person does not have any drugs in his car, then use those seized goods to buy things like new patrol cars;
    • police officers who do drug busts can rack up overtime processing the busts and have much higher arrest and conviction rates than those working homicides or other crimes that require more investigation, which results in a greater likelihood of being promoted.
  • The history of the legislation banning drugs demonstrates a concerted effort to justify the incarceration of people of color for fear those people were taking white jobs.  E.g. banning smoking opium in California targeting the Chinese, while the South did not ban it because it was used by rich white folks; e.g. banning marijuana which was associated with Mexicans.
  • The detention, arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of people of color for drug offenses demonstrates the systemic racism within our system because it is grossly disporporitonate to the percentages of users: e.g. black folks make up only 13% of crack cocaine users, but they make up 90% of criminal defendants in crack cocaine prosecutions.  Studies show that black and whites use illicit drugs at the same rates, but blacks are 10.1 times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offense.  Blacks represent 56% of those incarcerated for drug crimes, even though they are only 13% of the US population.
    • at a recent ethics seminar I attended which I will blog about soon, one speaker noted we do not see police doing undercover bust-buys on college campuses, at financial industry events, or on our law school campuses.  I thought this was a very interesting point.  We have no problem with cops sending in informants to poor neighborhoods of color to fight this war on drugs.  Why  do you think they do not send in informants to fraternities? law schools? events for professionals? 
  • in 2009, over 500,000 of 1.7 million arrests for US nonviolent drug charges were for mairjuana.  Barf.  
JJC VERDICT: Must watch documentary. Many of the points made I knew, but it is worth knowing the exact statistics.  It was a good film.  

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