Carol Ruth Silver former director, Prisoner Legal Services -
San Francisco Sheriff's Department
"Drug Prohibition gives criminals an unconscionably profitable monopoly."
Carol Ruth Silver is licensed to practice law in California, before federal courts and the United States Supreme Court. Silver was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors where she served three terms through 1989.
In 2007, after a robust political career, Silver accepted an appointment as Director of Prisoner Legal Services for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, providing counsel for incarcerated men and women. In this capacity, she witnessed first-hand the ravages of the government's War on Drugs: "I came to realize that significant numbers of inmates in jail for possession of marijuana, particularly women, were suffering the permanent loss of their children, a punishment far beyond what any reasonable judicial system should impose. I became embarrassed at my own participation in the system by which they were suffering such unreasonable cruelty."
Unable, in good conscience, to tacitly abide by the state's drug policies, she resigned the position in 2009, informing Sheriff Mike Hennessey: "I have found myself having to bite my tongue talking to some prisoners about their nonviolent drug charges. I find it difficult to discuss their financial or child custody problems when I cannot look them in the eye and justify their being in jail.". Silver sees the "mistaken and unjust set of laws that criminalize drugs based on the failed model of alcohol prohibition" as the "direct cause" of the nation's excessive incarceration rates, especially of poor people and people of color.
According to Silver, the most important reason to end this failed policy is "the corruption that prohibition creates by giving to criminals an unconscionably profitable monopoly on a trade worth billions of dollars yearly. We corrupt our own people, families, our law enforcement officers, even our own government."
Silver hails from Boston, earned a BA with honors in 1960 from the University of Chicago and a law degree, JD, in 1964 also from Chicago. She was later a Fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Her extensive civic and philanthropic activities stem from a deep and enduring sense of social justice. Silver was among the Freedom Riders who challenged segregation in the South spending 40 days in Mississippi jails and was one of the first attorneys to head a California Rural Legal Assistance office. She devotes considerable time and energy to several diverse social justice projects. In 2002, she traveled to Afghanistan to explore ways American citizens could extend the hand of friendship to the Afghan people and, upon returning, co-founded the Afghan Friends Network and a Sister City Committee between Hayward, California and Ghazni, Afghanistan. Carol Ruth Silver was HONORED WITH the University of Chicago Alumni Association's Public Service Citation in June 2009.