To The Daily Sun,
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love." I wish that our state's political leaders understood this simple and profound truth.
I want to commend the courage and integrity of a majority of our state Legislature for voting against allocating an additional $1.5 million for Operation Granite Hammer. Unfortunately, political establishment leaders such as Senate President Chuck Morse, Gov. Maggie Hassan, and Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard refuse to accept this defeat. They will hold a special legislative session on June 16 to have a revote on this bill. Since leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties want this bill passed, they will use the next several weeks to pressure state legislative representatives and state senators to change their votes and pass the bill.
Operation Granite Hammer is a law enforcement program already in place that focuses on arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating not only high-level drug dealers but also low-level drug dealers.
In their report, Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion and Effective Public Safety Strategies, policy experts Amanda Petteruti and Nastassia Walsh make a strong, well-researched case that incarcerating low-level drug dealers and offenders is an inefficient use of taxpayer money and can be harmful to the community's overall safety and well-being. (This report is published by the Justice Policy Institute and is available on the internet.) This report explains why policies such as Operation Granite Hammer that focus on decreasing the supply of drugs and increase mass incarceration instead of addressing the real problem, the demand for the drugs, is a flawed approach.
Mental illness, poverty, and unresolved trauma are major contributing factors that lead people to experiment with dangerous, illegal substances in our New Hampshire communities to self-medicate their hopelessness and despair. Many of these drugs, such as opioids, are highly addictive and once a person becomes addicted, it is extremely difficult to free themselves from that addiction. Additionally, paying for illegal drugs to feed chemical dependency is costly which leads many addicts to make money to pay for their drugs by becoming low-level drug dealers themselves.
The solution to address this problem and to get most low-level drug offenders off the streets is treatment and support combined with interventions such as drug courts that create accountability, motivation, and opportunity to change.
0For example, I love the approach of our Laconia Police Department and the incredible outreach work of Officer Eric Adams to offer resources, support, and a hand up to people struggling with addiction. Although the state has made progress with expanding treatment options for people that struggle with chemical dependency during this legislative session, we can do better.
The United States incarcerates both the greatest number of its citizens and the highest percentage of its citizens in comparison to any other nation in the world. According to a 2011 Pew Report, "Although the United States has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime, offenders in the United States are more likely to go to jail and have longer sentences than offenders in other countries. The growing disparity in the number of prisoners in the United States compared to those of the rest of the world did not really begin until the 1980s. During this time period the war on drugs began, and it exponentially increased the number of drug related offenders in prison from 40,000 to over 500,000 in 2008."
Even the name Operation Granite Hammer is problematic because it stigmatizes people who struggle with chemical dependency challenges. This name conjures an image of using a huge, scary Granite Hammer to pound some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The implication of a name like Operation Granite Hammer is the community vs. the addicts instead of everyone working together to overcome this epidemic.
Even Gov. Hassan acknowledged in her 2016 State of the State address this past winter that "we cannot incarcerate our way out of this opioid crisis." Unfortunately, Gov. Hassan's public words are not consistent with her action to support $1.5 million additional funding for Operation Granite Hammer.
I urge you to contact your district's state legislative representatives and your state senator to urge them to vote against allocating an additional $1.5 million to Operation Granite Hammer on June 16.
Additionally, I was deeply disappointed that this past April our State Senator, Andrew Hosmer, voted against a bill that had previously passed the state's House to decriminalize possessing up to half an ounce of marijuana by making it only a violation punishable with a $100 fine for the first offense. Had this bill passed (which it did not, thanks in part to Sen. Andrew Hosmer), New Hampshire would have stopped arresting people and giving them criminal records for a first offense of possessing small amounts of marijuana. As Rep. Renny Cushing, one of the sponsors of the decriminalization bill, was quoted as saying in the Concord Monitor, "It's unfortunate that we're spending $6.5 million a year to prosecute people for marijuana, when we don't have enough beds to treat people with addiction."
Both of the current Democratic Party candidates for U.S. President — Sen. Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton — have both committed that the United States will no longer lead the world in incarcerating its citizens if either of them become our next president. Unfortunately, many of our state leaders, even in the Democratic Party, push policies to expand instead of decrease the proliferation of mass incarceration in our state and in our nation.
Fortunately, we the voters will have the opportunity to elect leaders at all levels of government during both our state party primary elections in September and the general election in November that are committed to creating a more just society.