On the night of the Emmy awards, actor Michael Douglas used his win for his performance in Behind the Candelabra to speak out against the U.S. prison system.
His son Cameron is currently serving nine and a half years of hard time for a nonviolent drug conviction and is being punished because of his drug addiction. Cameron, who has struggled with drug abuse, got caught with a small amount of drugs for personal use while in prison and the judge in his case brought additional charges which resulted in adding on an additional four and a half years to his five-year sentence.
District Court Judge Richard Berman whacked Cameron with additional time for what is essentially Cameron's bad drug habit. Along with additional charges that resulted in more time, Cameron was also thrown into solitary confinement and many privileges were taken away, including phone calls and visits with his family.
Cameron appealed his new sentence as excessive and unjust. The Drug Policy Alliance agreed and convened a wide array of leading medical and substance abuse treatment authorities to support Cameron's appeal in a friends-of-the-court brief. But on April 15, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeal that challenged his additional 54-month sentence for possessing drugs while imprisoned. The federal appeals court found that the federal trial court had not abused its discretion in sentencing Mr. Douglas to the increased prison time (see decision). The 34-year-old Douglas is now scheduled for release in 2018.
In that brief, experts contended that Cameron's drug relapse behind bars was not surprising, noting the lack of adequate drug treatment in the nation's prisons and jails, particularly for opioid-dependent persons. They urged corrections officials to remedy this situation as a critical step to breaking the cycle of addiction that affects the great majority of people incarcerated in the U.S. Medical experts contended that Cameron's drug relapse behind bars was not surprising, particularly given the fact that he, like so many other inmates suffering from addiction in American prisons and jails, are not provided any meaningful drug treatment during their incarceration. The brief argued that adequate treatment, not more jail time, is a better solution for both the individual and society as a whole.
I fully understand what Cameron is going through because I was imprisoned myself and spent 12 years in a maximum security prison. At first Michael Douglas blamed his son for the mess he got into but now, he is questioning the Bureau of Prisons and asking why he is being prevented from visiting his son for two years.
Prison does not end at the prison wall. It extends far beyond it reaching those in the free world. It severely affects the family members and love ones of those who are incarcerated. Michael Douglas is being punished for his son's drug addiction. And at the Emmy Awards, he raised his powerful voice to speak out, not only on the indignity his son suffers, but the injustice millions of others endure from our nation's draconian drug laws.
Unfortunately our government continues to lock up people with drug addictions instead of giving them treatment. Treatment is valid for fighting the demons of addiction and an effective tool in overcoming the government's use of incarceration and punitive measures in response to nonviolent drug law offenses stemming from addiction.
This piece first appeared on the DPA Blog.