Last YAL event of the year at WKU

For my last event ever as WKU YAL’s President, I wanted to it to be about something that I really cared about: The American War on Drugs. I used YAL’s recommendations for speakers and came across the NORML website and its list of local lawyers involved with their message. William Deatherage is a member of NORML and deals with Kentucky drug cases.

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He is acutely aware of the consequences stemming from mandatory minimum laws. My YAL team worked with WKU’s Amnesty International and Students for Sensible Drug Policy to get the word out for the Incarceration Nation event.

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Deatherage described how mandatory minimum laws are causing prisons to swell across the country, especially in Kentucky. There is also disparate outcomes in the judicial system based on the income of an individual, he said. For example, Deatherage described how one case involving teenage drinking had some of the teens getting off because of their parents wealth, while one was stuck in jail because his family couldn’t afford the exorbitant bail.

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Nearly 30 people came to view Deatherage speak and watch the GenOpp documentary on mandatory minimums as the night progressed. Most of those who attended also signed the petition postcards that will be sent to Congress.

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“I thought it was very powerful to see a movement against mandatory minimums on a college campus. The fact that young people and politicians are taking an interest in this issue especially considering that mandatory minimums affect youth so much,” freshman Bailey Rung said.

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“I think it is up to our generation to pick up this issue and to see that on a college campus is absolutely terrific,” Rung said.

Deatherage took several questions from the audience for about 30 minutes, where he expressed optimism regarding the future of criminal justice reform, but he said the movement will be “slow.”

At the end of the program, it was almost like the air was sucked out of the room when I read off the statistics of our criminal justice system.

“America makes up five percent of the world’s population – and 25 percent of the prison population.”

We live in a society where one in three African American males face prison in their lifetime,” I told them. “That is the system we are fighting.”

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