While it is no secret that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s selection for vice president, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, is no friend to marijuana reform — voting several times while in Congress to keep cracking down on the legal cannabis community — many are not aware of the Midwestern politician’s most despicable actions against addicts and non-violent drug offenders, which include his refusal to prevent prison rapes and the implementation of policies that brought about one of the largest AIDS epidemics in the United States.
Over a decade ago, a federal law (Prison Rape Elimination Act or PREA) was put into place aimed at controlling the issue of sexual assault in penitentiaries across the nation. The brass tacks of the law, which were published in 2012 by the Obama Administration, suggests a variety of prevention methods from maintaining a zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse, stopping juveniles from being housed with adult inmates, and conducting background checks on prison staff members to ensure they come with no history of sexual misconduct.
By 2014, the Department of Justice was pressuring states to comply with the National PREA Standards. Forty-six states agreed to put funding to work in an effort to satisfy the language of the law, but as the Huffington Post reports, Mike Pence took no interest in preventing inmates — many of which are non-violent drug offenders — from being sexually abused while serving time in Indiana prisons.
In fact, Pence wrote a letter to then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder suggesting that, “full compliance” of the PREA standards “cannot be met” because the plan would cost the state too much money. Furthermore, Pence explained, “there is little empirical data showing these standards to be effective.” The letter went on to encourage the Obama Administration to “reexamine current expectations and provide states greater discretion” toward “controlling sexual assault of incarcerated persons.”
Some of the latest statistics show that 20 percent of the inmates currently locked up in state prison are there for non-violent drug offenses. These people are not being housed away from murderers and rapists, which puts them at an elevated risk for being victimized by jail cell predators. But Pence does not see the logic in protecting the safety of those incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes – failing to empathize with the fact that the emotional effects of a prison rape has the potential to transform an otherwise law-biding citizen into a wild, felonious animal once they are released.
Still Pence has taken an overly aggressive attitude toward locking people up for drug-related crimes. Earlier this year, he put his signature on a bill that increases the penalties for those caught in possession of controlled substances. The new law aims to put a leash on Indiana’s drug problem by forcing repeat offenders to serve out the full span of a mandatory prison term rather than allowing eligibility for early release. And while the new law does not apply to repeat marijuana offenders, Pence has done nothing throughout the years to prevent those convicted of petty pot violations from getting a firsthand look at the inner workings of the state’s prison system. As it stands, anyone caught with up to 30 grams can be locked up for 180 days. Second time offenders can be sent away for up to a year.
“I would not support the decriminalization of marijuana,” Pence said during a 2012 Gubernatorial debate. “To be candid with you, growing up in the Hoosier State I’ve seen too many people become involved with marijuana and have their lives sidetracked as a result. We’re to see marijuana become a gateway drug to even worse addictions on their part. We need to get more serious about confronting the scourge of drugs, especially meth, in Indiana and decriminalization is not the right path in my honest opinion.”
Interestingly, it was Pence’s dedication to handling the drug problem in Indiana that caused the eruption of a full-blown AIDS epidemic.
Governor Pence had a heavy hand in the elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood, forcing the closure of several clinics throughout the state that, in addition to other beneficial services, were providing patients with low-cost HIV testing. He also banned needle exchange programs for drug addicts. These policies eventually prompted the federal government’s Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to come swooping in because HIV was beginning to spread so rapidly that a State of Emergency had to be declared. Pence eventually lifted the needle exchange ban in the county most affected by the virus, but has refused to rescind the law for the rest of the state.
Although there is no way to tell whether these types of policies would influence a Trump Administration if the Republicans claim the keys to the White House in the November election, there is more than enough evidence to show that, even beyond the issue of marijuana legalization, a Vice President Pence would not serve the best interest of the American majority.
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