The American government has been waging “war” against its civilian population for the past several decades. This war began with the war on crime, which thereafter resulted in the war on drugs. Following World War II, the American public placed a great emphasis on rehabilitation in the criminal justice system.
There was an honest belief that criminals benefit from rehabilitative measures and that prison could be an effective means of doing so. The sentencing of criminals at the time reflected this, providing a minimum and maximum sentence that granted the individual the opportunity to prove that he or she had made use of the rehabilitation resources available. Indeed, polling on public opinion reflected this. In 1968, a Harris poll found that 48% of the public believed that the primary purpose of the prison system was rehabilitation, and 72% believed that the emphasis should be on rehabilitation.
Despite this, there was overwhelming opposition to the established criminal justice system from both sides of the political spectrum. Liberals began to aspire towards voluntary rehabilitation, believing the coercive prison sentences were not effective because the individual needed to make the choice himself. The left also believed that prisons created and exploited a group of second-class citizens that were victimized by the prison system.
Ignoring the push for positive restructuring of the prison system, the right made substantial opposition, capitalizing on white, middle class fears of a diminishing level of safety in their neighborhoods and homes. The right, headed by Richard Nixon, heralded in an era of “Law and Order”. The general consensus became that drug use mandated punitive measures, and the rehabilitation would be largely ineffective amongst criminals.
But there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. In “Breaking the Taboo” directors Cosmo Feilding Mellen and Fernando Grostein Andrade sought out “break th[e] taboo [about drug policy]…” and raise awareness amongst the public and policy makers to bring forth “more humane and effective drug policies.”
The film explores the history of the War on Drugs through narrative and interviews with 168 subjects, including numerous former heads of state—the likes of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and leaders from Brazil, Colombia, Switzerland, Norway and Mexico—and policemen, rehabilitated addicts, and inmates.
Recently, director Cosmo Feilding Mellen granted Elite Daily an interview in which he explains his ambitions for Breaking the Taboo, his views on how drug policy affects minority populations, and other opinions on how drug policy should function within a legal framework.
What’s behind the name Breaking the Taboo?
What was your ambition for this project? Were you intent on raising awareness or grasping the attention of policy makers.
The War on Drugs has resulted in the mass incarceration of primarily black and brown people. How would you suggest that policymakers rectify the higher rate of minority incarceration?
Speaking of incarceration, would you propose that policymakers invest in responses to drug use utilizing rehabilitative measures rather than punitive measures like prison?
The War on Drugs has been called the “biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years.” What are the primary issues you have been able to identify with American drug policy.
Moving forward what are your plans for Breaking the Taboo?
Are there any other projects you have in progress or are planning for the near future? How about long term?
Stephen Edwards | Elite.