Monday, March 17, 2014

Prejudice is a stinky cologne

''What's most interesting is that we are often disgusted by other people. We have laboratory research that explores the relationship between feelings of disgust and feelings towards out-groups.
People differ in how sensitive they are to disgust. It turns out that where you stand with regard to disgust correlates with your feelings about out-groups. It correlates with your feelings about immigrants, sexual minorities, race etc. The more easily disgusted you are, the more aversion you find to these others.

We also know this experimentally. We know that by making people be disgusted, we can make them meaner.

We brought people into the lab at Cornell University and we asked them all sorts of questions regarding their feelings towards different out-groups and different policies. What do you think of African-Americans? What do you think of gay men? What do you think of social-welfare? etc.
Half the people just filled out the form and went home. The other half of the subjects went into the room, got the same survey. But before they entered the room, we sprayed the room with a 'fart-spray'. And it would make them meaner! Not towards everything, but it would make them particularly meaner towards out-groups''.
- Paul Bloom & David Pizarro, Cornell University.
Racism is something you learn, not something you're born with.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Paradise Lost

Hawaii, behind this picture perfect paradise, lies an altered reality, where drugs are destroying peoples lives. Tourists flock to Hawaii's pristine beaches looking for a taste of paradise, but it's also one of the top 10 states for illegal drug use. For many years weed, cocaine, and heroin were the drugs of choice especially on the surf scene, but since the early 90's, crystal methamphetamine or 'Ice' has flooded this Pacific chain of eight islands.

The majority of Hawaii's 1.4 million residents live on Oahu and the Big Island. Oahu is home to the state capital Honolulu. 'The 50th state' has the highest rate of crystal meth use in the entire nation. Unlike the mainland U.S., here people from all walks of life use meth. Meth is not confined to the ghetto. Hawaiian slang for meth is 'Batu' which means 'Ice'. It's a powerful synthetic stimulant produced from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, a drug that can be found in cold and allergy medicines. It has a pretty much instant effect. Meth users experience an intense rush which can keep them up for days and frequently leads to paranoia and psychosis. The meth increases energy and users often exhibit repetitive obsessive behaviour.
In the late 80's, Asian gangs used Hawaii as a testing ground for meth and the drug quickly became popular. Crystal meth abuse costs the Hawaiian economy $500,000,000. In Hawaii, the U.S. DEA leads the fight against the drug. Ice consumes more law enforcement resources than all the other drugs combined. 51% of cases here are directly related to methamphetamine. A conviction for trafficking crystal meth can carry a 20 year prison sentence and a 20 million dollar fine! But with huge profits at stake, many are willing to risk life behind bars.
The Hawaiian islands are experiencing a meth epidemic. In recent years, the state has seen a shift in the drug supply chain from Asia to Mexico. In the early 1990's, it was coming over from Asia, but in the mid 90's it started to transform and the Mexican drug cartels started to take over. Simply because it's easier to traffic Ice across the U.S. - Mexican border than to smuggle it from Asia. Mexican drug gangs now control over 70% of the U.S meth market.

In 2011, drugs worth $531,285,893 were seized. The majority of drugs are imported, but the mainland is nearly 2,500 miles away, so dealers demand sky high prices. Honolulu international airport being the main gateway for drugs into the Hawaiian islands, approximately 90% of meth seized on Oahu arrives here. One of the other ways traffickers like to bring narcotics in, is through cargo. The Hawaiian islands import 85% of everything they need so drugs are easy to hide. Between 2007 and 2010, seizures of Ice increased by 89% and wholesale prices dropped, reflecting an increased availability of the drug.
Hawaii's Pacific Ocean location is 2,500 miles to the nearest drug production hub. Shipping narcotics to the island chain, Mexican cartels can make huge profits. In the state capital Honolulu, dealers sell at vastly inflated prices.

With drugs infused into Hawaiian society, and not everyone able to afford rehab, one of Hawaii's leading judges is transforming the judicial system; Judge Steven Alm, 'Hope' probation creator,

''Of the U.S., Hawaii is always one of the lower states for violent crime, usually in the bottom 10, but Hawaii is almost always in the top 5 for property crimes, such as thefts, burglaries, and stealing from tourists cars, and we are convinced that is because of our large drug problem. I would estimate between 80 to 85% of the cases in court involve drugs or alcohol''.

At the original sentencing, the judge has the choice of either sending somebody to prison for a number of years or putting them on probation - supervision in the community. The problem is that on regular probation, when people have tested positive for drugs there are no real consequences. 58.8% of men arrested in Honolulu tested positive for meth in 2011.
Judge Alm is changing the probation system so that there are direct and immediate consequences for drug use. If you test positive on probation for drugs on the 'Hope' probation scheme, you will go to jail that day (for a few days). Currently there are about 2000 felony probationers in 'Hope'.

''We had top quality research done on the programme, people in 'Hope' who are on the drug test hotline (random checks for those on probation) tested positive 72% less often than the people on regular probation; they got arrested for new crimes 55% less often than those on regular probation; and they got their probation revoked and were sent to prison 53% less often''.
With fewer people going to prison, the program is saving the state a hundred million dollars and helping to transform the lives of people who may otherwise have been homeless, in jail, or dead. While the demand exists and big profits can be made, there will however always be people willing to risk jail to supply 'Drugs Inc. Hawaii'.