Thursday, September 18, 2003
Victory #1, etc.
At least five vice-relevant stories in the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, September 17. I’ll
comment on the first three and just note two others.
(1) Victory #1: More than half a ton of cocaine, claimed to be worth more than $50 million, was
confiscated in a drug bust in suburban Aurora. Undoubtedly this large haul means victory in the
war on drugs, and ensures that none of our neighbors will ever purchase and consume coke again.
We are free of the drug menace. In the future, we can celebrate September 16 as Victory Over
Drugs (VD?) day.
A few drug policy commentators, including former San Jose police chief Joseph MacNamara and
the authors of The Corner, David Simon and Edward Burns, have noted the resemblance of drug
haul and arrest stats to the enemy body counts of the Vietnam war.
(2) The suspect in a death of a highway “flagger” on Monday was allegedly driving drunk, and
with a revoked license. His license was originally revoked in 1997, and he has not held a valid
license since then. The suspect has apparently been arrested six times for driving under the
influence (four convictions), and five times for driving with a suspended license (three
convictions). His BAC after the accident Monday was measured at .191 (surprising number of
significant digits if nothing else.) Another flagger in Illinois was killed by a drunk driver in July;
a total of 21 people have died in highway construction zones in Illinois in 2003, though only four
of them were construction workers.
There are two problems here. One is how to keep an extremely high risk driver from operating
an automobile. A second is how to induce all motorists to drive more slowly and safely in
construction zones. For the first problem, there are some technological devices that might make
it harder for drunk-driving recidivists to drive. But in Monday’s crash the suspect was driving
someone else’s car, so unless “personalization” or breath-analyzing" devices are widespread,
drinkers such as he will be hard to keep from driving if they are free to move around at all. So,
though I prefer not to fall back on the “stricter sentences for recidivists” mantra, it seems to
apply here – the suspect was released from jail in July after serving 67 days of a 138-day
sentence that had been imposed for his three most recent drunk driving convictions
(according to the September 18 Tribune.) As for the second problem, well, Illinois has recently
increased penalties for speeding in construction zones, and has tried to enforce the rules
more diligently, too. But perhaps there is a technological gimmick that might help here, too.
One possibility being explored is video cameras, but I am thinking about some sort of
“portable speed bumps” that would render the injunction to slow down more of an order
than a suggestion.
(3) A former guard has admitted smuggling drugs and a cell phone into the maximum security
prison in Joliet. His plea agreement calls for 4 years and 8 months in federal prison, where it
might be harder for prisoners to establish a reliable connection. Incidentally, this story reminds
me that providing alcohol to prisoners was at one time a perk in a jailer’s job. According to
Jessica Warner in her book Craze (concerning the gin epidemic in England in the 18th century),
the practice was so lucrative that when it “was finally banned in the 1780s, several jailers in
London were compensated in the range of [pounds] 200 to [pounds] 350 each.” Recall also
Barnardine in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. He was the prisoner facing execution whose
demise was delayed because he was always drunk.
(4) 50 students at a suburban high school were banned from extra-curricular activities for
attending a party in which alcohol was consumed.
(5) The Illinois Supreme Court reduced to $6.8 billion the bond that Philip Morris USA has to
post to appeal a March 2003 judgment. At that time a Madison County judge ordered Philip
Morris to pay $10.1 billion in compensatory and punitive damages (exclusive of lawyers’ fees)
for failing to inform consumers that light cigarettes were not less harmful than full-tar
cigarettes. The state Supreme Court also agreed to hear the appeal of the case directly, without
an intermediate stop at the state appeals court level.