Cameron Douglas -- who recently received a reduced sentence (from 10 years to five) in exchange for his cooperation -- is now likely to face a very tough time in prison. The NY Post reported yesterday that "Douglas Ratted on Dealers." Cameron's suppliers were charged with drug trafficking and face life sentences if convicted. Cameron, the son of actor Michael Douglas, is currently serving time at Lewisberg's minimum security prison camp in Pennsylvania.
From my experience as someone who served 12 years in New York's Sing Sing state prison -- one of the most dangerous prisons in America -- I know that Cameron Douglas is in a world of trouble. Once a prisoner is labeled as a "snitch," their life in prison suddenly changes and is in immediate danger. In prison a snitch is frowned upon and is at the bottom of the hierarchy of prison life. Until this point, it seemed that Douglas was living a pretty comfortable life in the camp at Lewisberg. Minimum security institutions have dormitory housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing.
Douglas's status will likely change as soon as his life is threatened. Once this happens, his entire world will turn upside down, and he will be transferred to protective custody (PC). Protective custody is used to protect victims and to reduce assaults and threats. The worst scenario will be that Douglas will leave his dorm-like minimum security environment for the safety of a cell.
In protective custody prisoners are confined in units that are separated from the general population and they spend an enormous amount of time (sometimes up to 23 hours a day) confined to a 8 x 10 cell in a separate housing unit. This takes a huge psychological toll on the imprisoned individual because of the existential nature of the punishment. You become fully aware of each moment and are left alone to contemplate your situation, which at times is overwhelming and often leads to suicidal tendencies.
These units are stand-alone, which means they contain everything needed to accommodate a prisoner needs. Security is super tight and prisoners are in constant observance of guards. Although Douglas will be safe from bodily harm, his time there will eventually take its toll on him and in all likelihood he will regret his decision to cooperate.
Cameron faced a mandatory minimum sentence in which the judge could not impose a sentence below that minimum unless he gave "substantial assistance" to the government in prosecuting his suppliers. So, in reality, he was put in this position by the criteria set by this country's anti-drug laws -- mandatory minimum sentencing and conspiracy provisions that have bred a culture of snitching.
The use of criminal informants in the U.S. justice system has become a way of life. Preliminary research indicates that up to 80% of all drug cases in the U.S. may be based on information provided by informants. Many individuals like Douglas have fallen prey to the reward of a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperation.
But in the end, the collaboration between Douglas and the justice system may have resulted in reducing his sentence, but it can also lead to tragic consequences for him. I hope this does not happen for the sake of Cameron and his family.
Anthony Papa is the manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance
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