Actor Michael Douglas used his Emmy win Sunday to draw attention to the plight of Americans held in solitary confinement, including his son.
“I’m hoping I’ll be able and they’ll allow me to see him soon,” Douglas told the audience before telling reporters backstage that he has begun to doubt the system that prevents him from even seeing his incarcerated son.
Cameron Douglas was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010 for small time drug dealing and possession for personal use. He had a five time a day heroin habit at the time of his sentencing. As The Guardian’s Sadhbh Walshe sardonically writes, “Strangely enough … the addiction that plunged his life into chaos and then landed him in prison did not magically cure itself once he was incarcerated.”
A little over a year later, four and a half years were added to Cameron Douglas’ sentence after it was found he took drugs in prison. It’s the harshest sentence ever imposed on an inmate for the act.
Cameron Douglas has also had to spend two out of the four years of his incarceration so far in solitary confinement. There he is locked away for 23 hours a day and denied visits from anyone.
People may have little sympathy for Cameron Douglas, the poor little rich kid who had it all and couldn’t handle any of it. He did break the law numerous times by dealing drugs to feed his habit and deserved to be sanctioned for that. It’s reasonable to assume also that if he had come from a poor minority background, he may have received an even harsher initial sentence and no one would have been writing newspaper articles about him or calling out to him during high profile award ceremonies. Still his case deserves attention as it typifies the stupidity of the war on drugs that has caused America’s prison population to explode while doing almost nothing to eradicate drug use in our society.
There are currently over 500,000 non-violent drug offenders serving time in America’s correctional institutions, counting for nearly a quarter of the country’s entire prison population. In the federal system, where Douglas is doing his time, over half of all inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses. In just over 30 years, the federal prison population has experienced a ten-fold increase, from around 21,000 in 1980 to over 218,000 today, an unprecedented rise that can be attributed directly to the war on drugs and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that are its arsenal. Many cash strapped states have had to enact reforms in the recent past and turn to drug treatment alternatives to cope with their unsustainable prison populations. The more affluent federal system has been slower to catch on but at last there is some hope on the horizon.