This Corrections Officer Couldn't Tolerate A System That Gives Harsher Sentences To Drug Offenders Than Sex Offenders

Each week Civilized invites professionals, activists, and others to share their story, in their own words, of how they came to be part of the cannabis community. Regina Hufnagel is a former corrections officer from Massachusetts who now is a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

I began my career in law enforcement at a fairly young age. I thought law enforcement officers were "the good guys," and save a few bad apples who give the bunch a bad name, this is still true for me.

This was my chosen career path because I like to help people. I like protecting others and my community. All of my friends are still in law enforcement, and I can confidently tell you they are all good people with the same motivations. Unfortunately, the War on Drugs has destroyed the mutual trust between law enforcement and communities necessary for police to be effective.

My law enforcement path started when I joined the Army Military Police Corp and deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2000. When I returned, my veteran status helped nudge me beyond a qualifying score when I applied for a correctional officer position with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP).

About four years later, I got promoted into the Receiving and Discharge Department - on the heels of the BoP implementation of the Sex Offender Management and Sex Offender Treatment programs, which serviced a societal demand for treatment and management of sex offenders. As we interviewed offenders about their past, we discovered that for every physical victim we knew about, therapy uncovered, on average, five to six we didn't know existed.

I felt I had a job that mattered

Not only were these offenders not re-offending because they were incarcerated, but they were also learning how to mitigate and manage their behavior. Because of the way we manage the incoming and outgoing mail, we were able to alert the FBI to potentially suspicious sexually abusive behavior outside of the prison. I finally felt like my job mattered.

However, the day-to-day responsibilities of processing offenders into and out of the institution showed glaring disparities in sentencing that I couldn't reconcile with my beliefs. Those incarcerated for drug prohibition-related crimes had an average sentence length that was not commensurate with their crime, especially compared with sex offenders.

I witnessed drug offenders receive 15 years for possession and intent to distribute marijuana, while a sex offender got three years for molestation of a child. Almost all of the prohibition-related offenders were black. Almost all of the sex offenders were white. As it turns out, the lifetime likelihood of incarceration for a black male in the U.S. is 1 in 3. For a white male, the rate of incarceration is 1 in 17.

I quit because the system was broken

I couldn't participate in the broken system. For that reason, and so many others, I quit in 2010.

In October of 2014, I attended a conference at Harvard University in Cambridge where retired police Lieutenant Jack Cole was speaking for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). I was previously unaware there was an organization of current and former criminal justice professionals who are also against the War on Drugs. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

He spoke the truth. The War on Drugs has wreaked havoc on our communities. It disproportionately affects the poor and undereducated. It's created a vicious cycle

Through the generations: children who have incarcerated parents are more likely to be incarcerated; those with limited financial means are more likely to be incarcerated, partially because they cannot afford a good defense in court; those who live in poverty are more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted; they are more likely to drop out of high school and much less likely to go to college.

Prohibition makes already hard lives worse

The drug war creates and perpetuates these struggles. The United States has five percent of the Earth's population, but the largest prison population in the world. Prohibition obviously doesn't work. If it did, the price of drugs would increase; purity and availability would decrease - yet the opposite has happened since 1970.

What struck me was the regret and sorrow Lt. Cole felt for creating criminals - going under cover and befriending people, encouraging them to buy and sell drugs so he could bust them. As a felon, they can't vote, can't pass most background checks, apply for student financial aid, or be accepted into most jobs.

I was immediately on board. I joined LEAP's Speaker's Bureau last year.

Now that I'm working toward smarter policies, I truly feel that I'm helping my community. Rather than pointing the finger at law enforcement, we need to be laying the blame on decades of misguided laws that have had disastrous consequences. We've spent over $1-trillion and haven't slowed the drug market one bit. There's absolutely no justification for continuing the War on Drugs. I want officers to know that LEAP offers a unique opportunity to turn their career experience into meaningful policy changes.

For more information about LEAP or to become a speaker visit


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