War on Drugs: Arkansas Statewide Public Meeting
February 24, 2014
"It wasn't a sudden epiphany," Terry L. Nelson,
Executive Vice Chairman of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition), spoke candidly about how his conversion from 'good
drug soldier' to staunch proponent for legalized control and
regulation grew from an uneasy feeling of futility.
Beginning February 24, Nelson shares his acquired
wisdom as the featured speaker at five civic programs in Arkansas,
starting with a special presentation that evening in Clinton which
is open to the general public and intended to address the specific
concerns of legislators, public officials and law enforcement
Thirty years of service with key U.S. drug-war
agencies, including the US Border Patrol, the US Customs Service,
and the Department of Homeland Security, have vested Nelson with a
rarefied vantage point on the unintended outcomes of the US War on
His distinguished career confirms his expertise
with professional titles, such as Air Interdiction Officer and
Criminal Investigator, Staff Officer to the Director of Foreign
Operations, and Instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training
Each new role earned Nelson new recognition of his
outstanding achievements as a Customs Inspector at the Dallas/Forth
Worth International Airport, with marine operations in the Florida
Keys, and with the Field Director of Surveillance of Support Branch
Nelson's day-to-day work repeatedly embroiled him
in counter-narcotics and anti-marijuana missions. During his tenure
with the SSBE. For example, Nelson's team helped seize over 230,000
pounds of cocaine and was awarded special recognition by the United
States Interdiction Committee. It was one of many awards officially
bestowed upon him over the course of his career.
For three decades, Nelson -- who also served in
Iraq as a Border Enforcement Officer Liaison to the Iraqi Department
of Border Enforcement -- persistently fought the good fight.
Upholding his sworn duty, sincerely believing that what he was doing
was the right thing to do and simply had to be done.
"Each year we would seize or assist in seizing
mega-ton loads of cocaine, and it was making absolutely no
difference," Nelson, who retired from his GS-14 position as a Marine
Group Supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security in 2005,
elaborated on his shift in thinking. "But, the War on Drugs went on
and on, I never saw any visible progress. Something was wrong with
Officially, the US War on Drugs began in 1971 at
the declaration of then President, Richard Nixon. During the 1980s
and '90s, public hysteria promulgated by racial fears and fueled by
headline-grabbing attention, resulted in doggedly 'tough on crime'
policies and skyrocketing incarceration rates.
Largely due to the drug war, the number of people
behind bars for nonviolent offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to
over 400,000 by 1997.
By contrast, today's total inmate population is
two-and-a-half-million, with a greater total of nearly seven million
people under some form of correctional supervision including
probation, parole, county jail, state prison and federal
Statistically throughout this time, more than half
of these people are non-violent offenders.
Put another way, in 1971 -- before the start of
the drug war -- the US incarceration rate was roughly 0.1% (one
tenth of one percent) of US population. Today that rate hovers at 1%
(one percent) -- an increase by a factor of 10.
When this ratio is examined for the seven million
people now under supervision by our whole corrections system, nearly
2.5% (two and one half percent) of the US population is by some
measure doing time and consistently over half of these people have
not committed a violent offense.
Such mounting statistics coupled with Nelson's
day-to-day experience living and working in (what he calls) 'the
transit zone' -- neighborhoods where the damaging consequences of
voracious drug-war interdiction meet the reality of community life
-- coalesced as Nelson's decision to affiliate with LEAP, where he
continues to labor for public safety with distinction.
"We must remove the criminal element from the drug
trade because it is destroying our society," Nelson adamantly
asserts throughout his public speaking appearances and during
interviews with major news media such as CNN, Fox News, Lou Dobbs,
Al Jazeera, CBC Canada and numerous talk-radio shows.
Nelson, whose home is in Granbury, Texas, also
publicly debated former Drug Czar John Walters and James Capra, DEA
SAC Dallas. And he had a key role in two documentaries: "American
Drug War 2" and "Damage Done: A Drug War Odyssey.”
As the featured speaker for LEAP, Nelson explains
the organization's resolve to reduce the multitude of harmful
consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs, and to lessen
the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ending drug
Nelson's Arkansas tour includes stops in Clinton,
Maumell, Bryant, Cabot and Little Rock, which though totally
coincidental, are propitious for Arkansas legislators who wish to
get a grip on drug-war issues and apply new knowledge to budgeting
priorities in the recently convened fiscal session of the
Considerations offered by Nelson could provide
valuable decision-making insight on several current legislative
agendas. For one, the recent Arkansas Board of Corrections request
to spend $5 to $6
million just to 'make plans' for the building of a new 1,000 bed
prison with an estimated construction cost of $75 to $85 million and
a guesstimated minimum operating budget of $23 million a year.
In addition, by mandate of Act 1190 of 2013, many
state agencies are now engaged in collaboration about how to create
a "Restorative Justice Reentry System" in Arkansas which delivers "a
holistic and seamless approach for reentry into society for persons
in the custody of the Department of Correction."
All of which carries forward the objectives of major
criminal justice reform legislation (SB 750) enacted by the General
Assembly in 2011, which diverted drug users to treatment and
accountability programs while prioritizing Arkansas prison space for
These major policy shifts
in Arkansas precipitated from the realization that over the past 20
years the population of Arkansas has increased by slightly more than
10% while the prison population has increased by more than 100%
percent, posing a dramatic increase in cost to state taxpayers but
corresponding benefit to public safety.
Specifically, in 1990 Arkansas was spending $45
million a year on corrections. By 2010, the annual amount had grown
to $349 million and now, in 2014, the all inclusive amount factoring
in indirect and ancillary costs is calculated by some as close to 8%
of the state's $4.7 billion annual budget.
"The drug war is unwinnable," Nelson summarized
"We must change the rules to win."
For more information about LEAP and Nelson's
upcoming tour of Arkansas, contact Darby Beck, 415-823-5496, visit
www.leap.cc online or
attend a program near you:
6:00pm, February 24, 2014
Clinton: Arkansas Elected Officials and Law Enforcement, Clinton
High School Auditorium, corner of Hall St. and Fraser St., Clinton,
Open to the public, this presentation is aimed to serve
legislators and law enforcement officials from all over Arkansas and
is followed by an informal meet & greet, starting at 9:00pm, held at
and sponsored by the Choctaw VFW4764, 3659 Hwy. 95E, Clinton. RSVP
with name and number in party is requested from those who would like
a meal at the meet & greet.
Contact: Scott Bramlett, 501-454-1988
12noon, February 25, 2014
Maumelle Rotary Club, Maumelle Country Club, 100 Club Manor Drive,
Contact: Tonya Brainard, 501-558-0269
6:00pm. February 25, 2014
Bryant Lions Club, Home Plate Diner, 2615 N Prickett Rd Ste 1,
Contact: Linda Steele, 501-847-0819
12noon, February 26, 2014
Kiwanis Club of Cabot, Colton's, 195 Northport Drive, Cabot, AR
Contact: Trina D. Welch, 501-843-1005
7:00am, February 27, 2014
Little Rock Metro Rotary Club, Baptist Health Medical Center, 9601
Interstate 630, Little Rock, AR
Contact: John Fulbright, 501-529-6001
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