Bush To Once-Busted Students: Do As I Say

Bush To Once-Busted Students: Do As I Say
Posted by FoM on April 20, 2001 at 21:52:57 PT
By Alicia Montgomery
When then-candidate George W. Bush answered questions during the presidential campaign about whether he had ever used illegal drugs, he refused to give a yes or no answer, claiming that his past was irrelevant. "I am asking people to judge me for who I am today," he said in a September 1999 interview. "I hope it doesn't cost me the election. I hope people understand." That nonanswer was good enough to get Bush into the White House, but it wouldn't be good enough to get him a student loan under his administration's higher education policy. 
On Tuesday, the Department of Education announced that it would enforce a law that would deny financial aid to students who answer "yes" -- or refuse to answer at all -- to one simple question: "Have you ever been convicted of selling or possessing drugs?" Education Department spokeswoman Lindsey Kozberg said the Bush Education Department was just doing its job. "The department is bound to enforce the legislation," she said. "Our interest is in appropriately carrying out the intent of the law." But regardless of the fairly compromised position of our president on the topic, the law is unfair and unjust -- both because it imposes such severe penalties for all drug offenses, including relatively innocuous recreational drug use, and because it disproportionately punishes poor and African-American youth. Perhaps worst of all is the fact that it actually makes it more difficult for young people who have had scrapes with the law to improve themselves. "It sends a message of government stupidity," says Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, an organization that works for reform of the nation's drug laws. Sterling claims that by delaying or denying past drug offenders the chance to go to college, the government will reinforce the negative circumstances that lead to drug crimes: lower income potential, unemployment and alienation from society. Sharda Sekaran, associate director of public policy at the Lindesmith Center Drug Policy Foundation, concurs. "It's counterintuitive to suggest that keeping people away from higher education will help stop drug abuse," she said. The restrictions on financial aid for students with drug records were signed into law in 1998. Former congressman Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., was the primary sponsor of the policy, which was tacked onto the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that governs federal financial aid programs. But the policy does not enjoy universal support in Congress. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has led the charge to have the restriction repealed, and has put together a coalition of more than two dozen mostly Democratic representatives to overturn it. On Feb. 28, he introduced H.R. 786, an amendment to the Higher Education Act to repeal the ban, his second effort since the policy went into effect. The policy does not ban aid to every student with drug convictions. Those who have been convicted of drug crimes as minors don't need to worry about the question. To Howard Simon, spokesman for Partnership for a Drug-Free America, that proves that the law doesn't punish kids for youthful errors. "We're not talking about some 15-year-old who is caught with a joint," Simon said. "It's people who are old enough to understand the consequences." That's not always the case, counters Jason Ziedenberg, a senior policy analyst with the Justice Policy Institute. Ziedenberg points out that, increasingly, prosecutors are apt to charge juveniles as adults for drug crimes. And, he says, a disproportionate number of those are African-American kids. Ziedenberg has the numbers to back up his case. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, between 1988 and 1997 the number of juveniles eventually tried as adults for drug-related offenses rose 78 percent. He also points out a study conducted last year by Building Blocks for Youth, an organization that monitors the way the criminal justice system affects minorities. While 59 percent of juveniles formally charged in drug cases were white, only 35 percent of those eventually tried as adults for drug offenses were white. Black juveniles, who made up 39 percent of youngsters charged in drug crimes, made up 63 percent of those charged as adults. "It's certain," Ziedenberg says, "that black and Latino kids will get the worst of this." Russell Selkirk isn't a member of a minority, but that didn't keep him from being snagged by the aid ban. Now a sophomore at Ohio State University, Selkirk was busted for marijuana possession four months after his 18th birthday. "Me and my friend were coming home from work one night and we stopped in this parking lot and we started to smoke," Selkirk recalls. "Then there were these two undercover cops tapping on the window." After he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor possession charge, Selkirk's driver's license was suspended for six months, and he was sentenced to one year's probation and 20 hours of community service. Selkirk thought that that would be the end of his problems, until he filled out the federal student aid form for the 2000-2001 school year. "So I told the truth," Selkirk said. "And then I couldn't get any aid." Selkirk's parents picked up the bill for his tuition, but the irony is that he could've done better by lying or, at least, by keeping quiet. During the 2000-2001 year, when the ban first went into affect, the Clinton administration didn't fully enforce the law. Of close to 10 million applications for aid received by the Education Department, 845,000 failed to respond to the question about drug convictions. The administration followed up with those applicants, but approximately 279,000 of those students still received aid that year without ever answering the question. Selkirk was one of fewer than 10,000 students who admitted a drug conviction and lost aid. But he did have another option. Those students who acknowledge past drug convictions are still eligible, as long as they have completed a drug rehabilitation program after their conviction. But Selkirk never went into rehab. "They cost $500 to $1,000 for a two-week rehabilitation program," he says. "I wasn't about to be able to afford that." Too bad, because rehab could get even the worst of drug offenders approved for aid. On the form, applicants who respond "yes" to the drug-conviction question are then asked if they have completed a rehab program since their conviction. Those who respond with a "yes" -- even if it's a student with multiple drug convictions of a serious nature -- will have their forms processed. Any who answer "no" -- even those, like Selkirk, with one or two minor, recent convictions -- will have to wait over a year to become eligible for aid. Just which drug offenders are eligible for aid, and when, is a question not easily answered by examining the worksheet that is supposed to explain the policy. The Byzantine formula considers whether a prospective student was convicted of possessing drugs or selling drugs (a more serious offense), and how long it has been since the applicant was last convicted. But there is no distinction made between selling pot and selling heroin, and no acknowledgment of the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor drug offense. Consequently, eligibility for aid seems fairly close to random. If an applicant were to have been convicted three years ago of selling crack to schoolchildren, even without a rehab program, he or she could be immediately eligible for aid. But a single new conviction for marijuana possession -- without rehab -- would delay eligibility for a year. Then again, perhaps it's the perfect reflection of the nation's war on drugs: a politically motivated campaign with a dubious mission, careless methods and a hint of hypocrisy dogging its cheerleader in chief. Note: The ban on college aid to those convicted of drug charges is arbitrary -- and has more than a whiff of hypocrisy.About the writer:Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau. Source: Salon (US Web)Author: Alicia MontgomeryPublished: April 21, 2001Copyright: 2001 Salon Website: Contact: salon Related Articles & Web Sites:Rep. Barney Frank Criminal Justice Policy Foundation To Enforce Financial Aid Drug Law and Senators? vs. the Drug War
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #5 posted by Jeaneous on April 21, 2001 at 20:43:23 PT:
They don't realize
Just how many genius's are they throwing on the streets with this law? Look at how many brilliant people have experimented with drugs at one time or another. Their stupidity amazes me.To ruin these children's future is a crime. This law is a crime. Cruel and unusual punishment.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #4 posted by John Markes on April 21, 2001 at 12:00:31 PT
Missed Something
 Something they missed in the article. The requirement to go through rehab does not require the person to have a drug abuse problem. They simply must go anyways. This is clearly another move to subsidise the drug treatment and testing industries. Does anyone know if any of the legislators involved in starting this law had connections with the drug testing industry and the burgeoning treatment industries?
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #3 posted by CongressmanSuet on April 21, 2001 at 08:05:51 PT:
To anyone familiar..
 with "the Drudge Report" check out the latest news about the Supreme prolitariet, I mean court. 2 nominees from Bushbaby coming as soon as this summer, one studied under Scalia[a true friend of the people] and another, Garcia, who will fight it out with Bush's own White House council for the job. Very upbeat news for a nice Saturday morning in dealand...
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by lookinside on April 21, 2001 at 07:59:15 PT:
the way to get to bush is through congress...dig the dirt upon your congressmen and then USE it! recall the jerks whosupport or are afraid to oppose bush's presidency...tellthem impeachment of the prez is the only action that willshow them to be honest representatives...bush is perfectly capable of starting a worldwide depressionto further his aims...and then instituting marshal law and apolice state to keep the masses from burning the white house...  this probably won't happen if people pay attention and"BITCH" every time he makes another move toward restrictingthe freedom of the american people...keep the pressure onthis jerk...don't let your representatives do anything tosupport him without ALOT of negative phone calls's our only avenue outside of open rebellion...our forefathers favored open rebellion when a governmentbecame unresponsive to the will of the people...(king georgeIII figured that out) we've got george II to contendwith...  i don't think the democrats or the republicans can turnthings around from the current trend toward loss of personalfreedoms and rights...we need a serious 3rd party...onewhose platform is based on the bill of rights...the libertarians have the right idea, but many of theirplanks are unworkable in a society so interdependent on aworld economy...we need a strong central government for only2 reasons...national security(invasion by the chinese orcanadians is bad) and to maintain our infrastructure...weneed a national highway system in good repair...our economyrequires the fast and efficient movement of goods across thecountry...EVERYTHING else should be governed locally...the federalgovernment has no initiative process...congress can pass(ornor write) anything it can sidestep issuesforever if no one breaks ranks and gets too vocal...  the internal pressures congress brings on it's members isenormous(if an individual congressman plans on accomplishinganything while in office, he must have his peers'cooperation...)we've given congress too much power in areasour founding fathers never dreamed is time totake it back...we can only do that by removing congressmenwho believe in big central government...we can only start moving in this direction by educatingourselves and passing along the information to'stough to get people riled up when times are good...dubya maygive the american people a taste of hard times...enough toget the electorate off their butts? i hope so...
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by The GCW on April 21, 2001 at 05:29:28 PT
Bush stole the election fair and square!
Thus, Bush is part of the problem! The country is getting fatigued. Between W. and his father, History will paint them like the grim reamers! Not in many years has a father and son team screwed us this bad.He has used drugs, his daughter used drugs, are they a bunch of wealthy druggies that simply do not need anyone else to depend on? My mother told me, "all we have is each other", and taught me that we must all get along in this world. Then we have these political leaders who destroy us. And, the country is getting fatigued. Bush reminds me of that punk that stole my lunch money on the playground!I would sign a pitition to RECALL Bush's presidential election! Let's not sweep the dirt under the carpet, but rather let's sweep the dirt completely out the door!!!&!
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: