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The Country I Live In: The Global War on Drugs

The House I Live In captures heartbreaking stories from individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. The documentary is a penetrating look inside the United States’ longest war, and a portrait revealing the profound human rights implications of the country’s drug policy.

One of the eye-opening problems highlighted by the film is the number of people arrested for drug related crimes. As shown in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting in 2010, an estimated 1,638,846 people were arrested for drug violations. Although that number has dropped, the FBI reported more than 1.5 million drug-related arrests last year, many of which were re-offenders.

While many individuals are incarcerated for drug-related crimes, there are still drugs flowing on the streets, in schools, and homes of American families. Could it be that while incarcerated, America’s prison systems are not doing a good enough job of rehabilitating their prisoners?

Late last month, The Guardian’s Erwin James reported on the Bastoy prison island in Norway where prisoners live in conditions that critics have called “cushy” and “luxurious.” Although these rapist and murders are detained for their crimes, the Norwegian prison has by far the lowest reoffending rate in Europe.

Alf Ole Ask is the New York correspondent for Aftenposten. He has also reported from Oslo, Stockholm and Brussels.

Alf Ole Ask is a Norwegian journalist based in New York and has reported on the American prison systems for the Norwegian publication Aftenposten. According to Ask, drug offenses are very serious in Norway.

“I am not sure if the laws are so different on a national or a federal level, but we do not have medical marijuana in Norway as [the United States] has in different states,” he said. “All use of drug sales are illegal in Norway.”

While in the United States, 1 kilogram of heroin can lead to a 10 years to life sentence in prison, Norway’s sentences are different. According the Ask, the maximum prison sentence for drugs is 21 years, which in reality means that inmates will be let out after 17 years. In order to to get the maximum sentence, the dealer would have to be a major smuggler, more along the lines of those involved with organized crime. There is also no death penalty in Norway, even during wartime.

“I think that 95 percent of Norwegians are against death penalty, and they think that death row is inhumane – and it is,” said Ask. “In Europe, every country in the European Union does not practice death penalty in peacetime. There are different rules in different countries for wartime.”

Ask says that the American prison system is about penalty, while Norway’s system works to get the person back into the society.

“Our system is more human. Too human, some would say,” he said. “We do not have the possibility to give a person more than 21 years, but if there is a chance that the person will do new serious crimes they can be held longer.”

Despite an unsuccessful War on Drugs and high incarceration rate, Ask believes that both the Norwegian and American legal systems can learn from one another.

“The United States has a huge prison population and a huge crime rate, so [their legal system] has not been a success. In Norway, crime is increasing so we cannot say it is very successful either.”

REACT to The House I Live In:

UNDERSTAND your rights as citizens by being aware of drug laws in your state.
LEARN about the “New Jim Crow” and the mass incarceration of minority youths for drug-related crimes in the United States.
HELP those who are struggling with drugs and alcohol abuse to find treatment through organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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