Dope-dealing kids and perpetuating the false promise of gang life

ImageWhen an adult gets pinched for possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, he’s more than likely envisioning prison time as the picture of what his future will look like, for better or for worse.

A juvenile? Not so much.

That’s even when convicted of multiple counts of trafficking an incredibly addictive drug known for its violent spinoffs and contribution to social decay.

That was evident today during a sentencing for a 16-year-old Mad Cowz gang member who pleaded guilty to not one, but two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking crack since last fall, along with a joyriding charge and several breaches — many of which had to do with his persistence in handing around with other Mad Cowz.

Mad Cowz have been in the news a fair amount as of late, largely because of a recent police project which took down 10 members of the gang’s so-called “hierarchy.”

If memory serves, five of the 10 were youths. The teen in question was not one of those picked up in Project Recall.

(The project’s work began in earnest — perhaps co-incidentally, perhaps not — after a Mad Cowz-linked fatal shooting of a rival B-Side gang member in a late-night restaurant in February.)

In any event: the teen sentenced today has been out of custody on bail for all but the last few weeks.

In one trafficking charge, he was nabbed Oct. 28 by eagle-eyed cops on Ellice avenue with a garbage bag with 27 rocks of crack inside it after the youth was seen trying to pitch it, and then going back for it when he thought the cops stopped watching.

He also had $260 cash on him. He’s arrested, released from the youth jail but back in, briefly, by Nov. 15, when he breached curfew and was tracked down with the help of a K9 dog and the police chopper.

And then, most recently, he is picked up again May 21 after being spotted on Beverly Street in the company of one of the Project Recall youth suspects, one who was granted bail after his arrest in the project [also a youth].

This time, he’s nabbed holding 16 rocks of crack and $135 cash and a cell phone.

The teen has no record. Therefore, his sentence was pretty much written in stone the minute he started seeking a Crown position: Two years of supervised probation and a relatively stern talking-to by the judge who cautioned him of what he’d be facing if he was just two years older, and how he didn’t believe the offender when he says he was preyed upon by other Mad Cowz members to take part in the gang.

At the end of the day, we have to wrestle with how this sentence in any way stops him from trafficking again, forces him to take the justice system seriously.

It mystifies me, personally.

(And lest we misplace blame, it’s the Youth Criminal Justice Act which really determines how it all shakes out, not the judge nor the lawyers).

And it’s not that I feel he’s getting off light. It’s just that he’s shown he can’t comply on bail, so I question what good a punishment of probation in the community will do for him — and for us.

I also wonder about the message the sentence sends the gang’s higher-ups, who are watching closely how the system reacts to what they’re doing.

That crack doesn’t just come from nowhere.

The revolving door of youths being effectively used by adult offenders to do their dirty work can’t close if the head honchos are perpetually told that the penalties are so light.

The false promise of gang life will continue to be sold.

‘Whitey’s’ words:

(Ian Jackson MacDonald and his daughters/James Turner)

Ian Jackson MacDonald’s comments upon leaving the Remand Centre Wednesday afternoon:

(MacDonald, affectionately known as ‘Big Mac’ or ‘Whitey’ has faced the music for his role in plotting to import large amounts  — the Crown called them ‘bales’ — of weed into Manitoba in the late 70’s. U.S. Marshals nabbed him in November, in Florida, after 30 yrs on the run. The drug investigation reached into the Manitoba Legislature with MLA Bob Wilson being indicted and sent to prison for his role. The case is so old that the trial transcripts were typed with a manual typewriter using onion-skin paper, just to give you an example of the history.)

On getting out after months of being locked up, sick with cancer and several other ailments that have greatly reduced his life expectancy:

“It felt like a great relief to get out in the sunshine and out of the nasty air conditioning in that building.”

”We’re doing OK. I’ve never been in jail before, never had a criminal record before – so this is all something very new to me. That’s about it.”

On being reunited with his kids – who he didn’t see for three decades after choosing to go on the lam:

“It feels great. They’re my daughters, they’re my buddies…they’ve come from California, from LA to fix me up, to look after me…I have a family again.”

His reaction to the two-year house arrest sentence handed to him – one carefully negotiated by the highest levels of the federal Justice department and his own lawyer, Sheldon Pinx:

“It’s amazing, for such a little amount of substance that, uh, they take a 93-year-old man and boy, they’re sure giving it to me.”

On saying on prior occasions that former MLA Bob Wilson is innocent:

”I’m starting to wonder about that.”

(Gets cut off by daughters and whisked away.)

Conrad Black’s back; Morneau appeals

And Black’s op-ed in today’s National Post is a must-read.

“It had been an interesting experience, from which I developed a much greater practical knowledge than I had ever had before of those who had drawn a short straw from the system; of the realities of street level American race relations; of the pathology of incorrigible criminals; and of the wasted opportunities for the reintegration of many of these people into society. I saw at close range the failure of the U.S. War on Drugs, with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42% of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.) A trillion dollars have been spent, a million easily replaceable small fry are in prison, and the targeted substances are more available and of better quality than ever, while producing countries such as Colombia and Mexico are in a state of civil war.

And it’s a good point. The risk the state [or the Crown] runs is clogging up the system with offenders who are inconsequential to the overall stated desire to stamp out illegal drugs. Is the fact that so many of them are there an indictment of the ability of law-enforcement to get the big fish?

Black continues:

I had seen at close range the injustice of sentences one hundred times more severe for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine, a straight act of discrimination against African-Americans, that even the first black president and attorney general have only ameliorated with tepid support for a measure, still being debated, to reduce the disparity of sentence from 100 to one to 18 to one.

It truly is disgraceful that two versions of the same drug inspire such different penalties.

But Black’s not done yet:

And I had heard the vehement allegations of many fellow residents of the fraudulence of the public defender system, where court-appointed lawyers, it is universally and plausibly alleged, are more often than not stooges of the prosecutors. They are paid for the number of clients they represent rather than for their level of success, and they do usually plead their clients to prison. They provide a thin veneer for the fable of the poor citizen’s day in court to receive impartial justice through due process.

It happens here too, but IMO not nearly as frequently. It’s one of the worst problems of the Youth Criminal Justice Act – where kids will plead out because they’ll be out faster then they would if they had their charges fully litigated.

And I had the opportunity to see why the United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people as other prosperous democracies, (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom), how the prison industry grew, and successfully sought more prisoners, longer sentences, and maximal possibilities of probation violations and a swift return to custody.

Before I got into the maw of the U.S. legal system, I did not realize the country has 47 million people with a criminal record, (most for relatively trivial offenses,) or that prosecutors won more than 90% of their cases. There, at Coleman, I had seen the courage of self-help, the pathos of broken men, the drawn faces of the hopeless, the glazed expression of the heavily medicated, (90% of Americans judged to require confinement for psychiatric reasons are in the prison system), and the nonchalance of those who find prison a comfortable welfare system compared to the skid row that was their former milieu. America’s 2.4 million prisoners, and millions more awaiting trial or on supervised release, are an ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead; they are no one’s constituency.”

Former Manitoba justice minister Dave Chomiak promised to introduce a mental-health court before he left politics.

This from the FP’s Mary Agnes Welch, Feb 24, 2008 [her latest short blog has a passing mention of a topic dear to my heart]:

Mental Health Court

There are more than 100 of them in the United States. Ontario has had one for 20 years. And, Alberta’s assistant chief judge wants to set one up in his province to stop people with mental illnesses from getting churned repeatedly through the penal system with no special intervention.

Ontario’s court has a dedicated mental health prosecutor and a staff of workers who can intercept mentally ill people who get repeatedly hauled into court for minor offences. Instead of going to jail, people with Schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are diverted into programs. They get help with addictions, priority placement in housing units if they’re homeless and a health plan devised by psychiatrists and counselors.

Chris Summerville, executive director of the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society, said studies have shown that at least 16 per cent of prison inmates have a diagnosable mental illness.

“Why are prisons our largest mental health institutions?” said Summerville. “It’s not moral, it’s not ethical, it’s not appropriate.”

Summerville served on a high-powered task force three years ago that recommended a mental health court but hasn’t heard a peep about it since. He said the stumbling block then was a lack of services for the mentally ill.

But Justice Minister Dave Chomiak says he’s committed to creating a court for the mentally ill and hopes to have a plan in place before year’s end. He said such a specialized court has been a dream of his, but the details have been legally tricky.

“Before I leave this practice of politics, there will be a mental health court in this province,” promised Chomiak.

Now consider the fate of Tim Morneau, the Winnipeg ecstasy smuggler who’s about a year and a half into a 20 year prison term.

On Thursday, Morneau appealed — it could be his last chance for a new trial.

Here’s the audio recording of the hearing — note the joking and laughter at various points by the judges and lawyers and the gallery.

Tim Morneau Appeal

Given what Conrad Black has to say about “oversentenced” prisoners – many of whom are there because of the U.S. war on drugs, I’m wondering if Morneau could be considered one of them.

When the man in Manitoba’s now-second-largest drug bust of all time [42 kg. of coke] can get a 10 year sentence after years out on bail, a full trial and motions to suppress [he’ll serve maybe 3 given he’s essentially a first time, non-violent offender].

[He was denied bail this week as he appeals to the Supreme Court to hear his case]

It makes me question what goes on in the justice system south of our border.