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Past Winners: Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship

With a great range of impressive applications submitted from students around the country, we are happy to announce the recognition of one exceptional student who demonstrates the importance of criminal justice and giving back to the community.

2016 Award Winner: Tessa Piety

We are pleased to announce the winner of our 2016 Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship: Tessa PietyIn 2016, Kush Arora selected Tessa Piety, a student continuing her education at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, as the inaugural winner of the Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship.
Just having finished her undergraduate degree in political science at Berry College, Tessa is continuing her education in criminal justice while working at a federal halfway house, aspiring to earn her doctorate post graduate school in criminal justice as well, where she then aspires to teach at the collegiate level and work at a federal law enforcement agency advocating for the rights of others.
Upon hearing of her acceptance for the scholarship, Ms. Piety was grateful for the encouragement along her educational path of striving to give back to her community, under the influence of her exceptional parents.

When they had two children by birth, they then decided to adopt 26 more children, including Tessa. Her experiences and education lead her to strive to give to her community the way her parents did for their community and children like Tessa.

In her personal statement articulating which policy in the criminal justice system required reform, she advocated for better allocation of mentally ill patients being put in prison.

Her particular experiences have taught her that everyone deserves the opportunity to be helped, and her parent’s sacrifice has led her to the pursuit of sufficient criminal justice reform, while her dedication to her education and to serving others delivers as an inspiration to all and makes her very well deserving of each opportunity she has sought.

2015 Award Winner: Gustavo Cardona

We are excited to announce that the winner of the Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship is Gustavo Cardona from Tuskegee University’s Class of 2017. Mr. Cardona is a political science major at Tuskegee University.

After hearing about his winning application, Mr. Cardona had this to say:

2015 Past Winner of the Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the committee for selecting me as the 2015 Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship Winner. Winning this scholarship is truly life changing; raised by a hard working single mother, and myself currently a student and a working professional, the financial situation at home is difficult.

This scholarship is a sign of hope for both myself and my family. The scholarship lifts a big burden off of our shoulders, and moreover, the support motivates me to continue persevering towards my goals. With the scholarship’s help, I have been able to continue my education at Tuskegee University, where I am pursuing a political science degree with intent on becoming a civil rights lawyer. I hope to empower all people to recognize the law, so that they may live quality lives. I thank the committee again for their support, and for giving me the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, through the field of law.”

Read Mr. Cardona’s Winning Essay:

Change Drug Possession Laws, Change America

In his book titled, A Brief History of Drugs: From the Stone Age to the Stoned Age, philosopher Antonio Escohotado describes that a “Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from 2200 B.C.E recommend[ed] beer as a tonic for lactating women” (6).

Whether you sympathize with Escohotado’s finding, or view it as an absurdity, the important element to capture is that drugs have been influencing humanity for a very, very long time. Opium, the substance derived from the poppy plant and used to make heroin, is known to have been cultivated in India since at least 300 B.C.E (Crain-Ratliff). And Marijuana, a drug gaining mainstream popularity today, is known to have been used as far back as 2700 B.C.E (Crain-Ratliff). In the United States, drugs have experienced varying regulation, ranging from laissez-faire policies, to current laws aimed at eradication. Just over one hundred years ago, smoking opium on the streets, or taking cocaine was not a criminal offence (Robinson and Scherlen 20). Instead, drugs were commonly prescribed by physicians to treat illnesses, and used by many people for social, cultural and religious reasons (Boville Luca de Tena 15-17). Today’s illegalization of drugs makes this not-so-distant past seem almost fictional. However, Americans must never forget that drugs were once an integrate part of society. Rather, we should question the economic toll that drug possession laws exert on our communities, as well as their destructive effects on the social wellbeing of our nation. I find that few sensible reasons exist that justify the extent of today’s drug possession laws.

The criminalization of drug possession has resulted in unwarranted costs for the American public. We see that since the enactment of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which established drug possession penalties, our federal prisons have overflown with convicted felons (United States). According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the number of federal inmates today totals 208,987, nearly 50% of which are serving for drug offences (United States). This is a 464% increase in prisoners since drug possession laws first surfaced just 28 years ago (United States). Professor of criminology at the University of California, Elliot Curie, predicts that if the country were to expand its prison capacity to jail the majority of drug abusers, it would amount to a conservative $15 billion a year investment by the American taxpayer (Curry 573). This is the kind of future that drug possessions laws are leading us towards. Right now, the growth of imprisonments results in daily economic losses for the American people. According to the U.S Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center report, the U.S government lost more than $193 million as a result of their drug policies in 2011 alone (4). This is the combined costs of crime, health and citizen productivity; a gross representation of the so-called “war on drugs.”

The exorbitant costs of maintaining drug possession laws are endured by our communities, and are not only unnecessary, but groundlessly sacrifice the social needs of our society. As a student who has grown in the public school system, my imagination drifts to the potential reality for many low income communities if government budgeted funds more efficiently: Better maintained neighborhoods, a wider range of employment programs, and a higher standard of education. The financial burden that current drug possession laws exert, hinders society’s ability to implement such progressive ideas- Ideas that will ultimately divert drug use, and possession to more productive means. Present drug possession laws deteriorate our economy, and social wellbeing. This is a high price to pay, however, the racial disproportionateness existing in prisons as a result of drug possession laws is even more repulsive.

Drug possession laws in the U.S suppress minorities, and in doing so, demoralize American values of equality. Doris Marie Provine, author of Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs, explains that in 1994 “Blacks and Hispanics constituted over 75 percent of those charged with felony drug offenses in the nation’s seventy-five largest cities” (17).  Fast forward to 2011, and Blacks and Hispanics still possessed a much greater chance of serving time in prison than Whites (The Sentencing Project). Defendants of current drug possession laws might argue that the racial disparity in our prisons is a fair assessment of those that are committing the crimes. I agree with these defendants in that the purpose of drug possession laws are to punish transgressors. However, I would direct their attention to the current injustices that our justice system commits against minorities. Consider the federal mandatory minimum sentencing disparity that exists between the possession of cocaine and crack (FAMM). A person possessing .05 grams of crack today, receives the same punishment as a person possessing a full gram of cocaine powder (American Civil Liberties Union). Why is crack punished more severely than cocaine? The federal government has no answer. What we do know is that crack cocaine, for a variety of reasons, is more prevalent in low income Black and Hispanic communities (Knafo). Such irrational policies damage our society by generating inequality in our justice system. We cannot ignore that drug possession laws unfairly target individuals from lower socioeconomic classes. The present system puts a growing number of minorities in prison, and continues to drive this population towards poverty and social isolation. Continuing in our present course will lead America to social bankruptcy.

Not long ago, when consulting a professor about a troubling problem I was having at school, he looked at me and asked, “How do you eat an elephant?” In awe, I shook my head to signal that I didn’t know, and he answered, “One bite at a time.” Every day, Americans are forced to face their larger elephant: high unemployment, rising tensions between minorities and law enforcement, and the cries of cities, such as Baltimore, responding to grim economic and social conditions. Reforming drug possession laws is key to economically sustaining our nation, and reinstating American values of freedom and equality. Let us criticize drug possession laws, and take one bite out of America’s larger elephant.

Note:

On Law Day (May 1st) 2015, after sitting through several criminal case hearings including one involving large amounts of cocaine possession, I had the unique opportunity to ask U.S Magistrate Judge Barry Garber, what he thought about current criminalizing drug laws. Because the question was made in court, Judge Garber politely excused that it would be improper for a sitting judge to offer opinion; however, he shared with me that he does have concerns, especially when it comes to drugs such as “marijuana”. Judge Garber’s response, although succinct, I think reveals that problems in our justice system concerning drug possession do exist. I want to thank your scholarship for encouraging me to research this topic, I feel that I have become a better person because of it, and hope to share my findings with my family and friends.

 

Gustavo Cardona

Kush Arora Federal Criminal Justice Reform Scholarship

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. “U.S. SUPREME COURT WEIGHS 100-TO-1 DISPARITY IN CRACK/POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING.” 2 October 2007. American Civil Liberties Union. Web. 10 April 2015.

Barrett, Damon. Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Policies on Young People. New York: International Debate Education Association, 2011. Ebook Collection (EBSCOhost).

Boville Luca de Tena, Belen. The Cocaine War : In Context: Drugs and Politics. New York: Algora Pub., 2004. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost).

Crain-Ratliff, Jeff. University of Minnesota Morris. 23 August 2008. Document. 6 April 2015.

Curry, Elliot. “Toward a Policy on Drugs.” Barnet, Sylvan and Bedau Hugo. Current Issues and Enduring Questions a Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. 10th. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. 570-580. Print.

Escohotado, Antonio. A Brief History of Drugs: From the Stone Age to the Stoned Age. 1st. Maryland: Park Street Press, 1999. Print.

FAMM. “FEDERAL MANDATORY MINIMUMS .” 25 February 2013. FAMM. Web. 10 April 2015.

“Forfeiture of Freedom.” July-August 1992. The Quill. Academic OneFile. Web. 17 April 2015.

Friedman, Milton. “There’s No Justice in the War on Drugs.” Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Enduring Questions a Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. 10th. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. 567-570. Print.

Knafo, Saki. “When It Comes To Illegal Drug Use, White America Does The Crime, Black America Gets The Time.” 17 September 2013. Huffington Post. Web. 10 April 2015.

Krisberg, Kim. “Alcohol Taxes Good for Job Creation.” The Nation’s Health. 2015. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 April 2015.

M, Provine Doris. Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs. University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.

Robinson, Matthew B. and Renee G. Scherlen. Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics : A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Albany: State University of New York, 2007. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost).

The Sentencing Project. Facts About Prisons and People In Prison. Project. Washington, 2014. Web.

United States. “Offenses.” 28 March 2015. Federal Bureau of Prisons. 6 April 2015.

—. “Statistics.” 23 April 2015. Federal Bureau of Prisons. Web. 5 April 2015.

United States. Department of Justice. National Drug Intelligence Center. The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society. U.S Dept. of Justice, 2011. Web. 14 April 2015.

2017 KUSH ARORA FEDERAL JUSTICE REFORM SCHOLARSHIP

If you are interested in applying for the 2017 Kush Arora Federal Justice Reform Scholarship, please visit the official scholarship application page to view submissions requirements and application criteria.