The War on Drugs and Prison Overcrowding David Turner CCJ 1020 October 06, 2012 Overcrowding is one of the most difficult challenges that prison administrators face in the United States. There are many factors that that affect the constant flow of people being processed into today’s prisons. The “war on drugs” has led to more arrest and convictions that any other crime. The money spent on the prohibition of drugs and the law enforcement presence to stop drug trafficking raises high into the billions of dollars.
The cost to care for these individuals while incarcerated has cost taxpayers billions over the years. When looking at today’s statistics of the “war on drugs”, the supply and demand is greater than it has ever been. From 1995 to 2003, drug offenses accounted for 49% of the growth in prison population in both state and federal institutions (McVay, 2011). According to the Department of Justice, in 2004, almost 30% of drug offenders in state prisons were serving time for possession, while close to 70% were serving time for trafficking.
There is a strong following across the United States from state groups and services rallying against sentencing and pushing for drug counseling programs. Legalization for marijuana has resurfaced in the November polls in some states. In many prisons, marijuana convictions fill the cell blocks more than any other drug offense. In 1933, America re-legalized alcohol, and the 21st amendment re-legalized its production, distribution and sale. Alcohol consumption and violent crimes fell instantly (Goelman, 2011). As a result, the American criminal justice system felt slightly organized.
Crimes that were being committed due to alcohol smuggling and manufacturing had almost came to a complete halt. President Richard Nixon’s first budget for the “war on drugs” was $100 million dollars (Associated Press, 2010). If only that was the budget these days. Published reports state that the Obama Administrations budget for 2011 was $15. 1 billion dollars. Most of the money is budgeted for law enforcement and drug interdiction purposes. When Nixon first started this movement to find drugs, it was for counseling and for drug treatment programs. President
Reagan reinvented the “war on drugs” phrase by changing the goal from rehabilitation to a law enforcement presence (Jane, 2011). Since the early 1980’s, the number of people being sentence to state penitentiaries have double, even tripled in some areas. The idea of, if you lock them all up, then the crimes will stop approach has not worked over the years. The numbers have consistently gone up in both the budget and those being incarcerated. Many states have lowered drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and resorted to longer, more structured probationary terms.
Though this is a step in the right direction, it is not enough to put a dent in the budget or free up space to house more dangerous offenders in our prisons. Businesses around the globe use simple business practices to figure out supply and demand. If there is a demand in an area, then a store is opened and the goods are sold. If the business is not doing well in sales, then the store closes. If we (America) can stop the urge, the addiction, or demand for certain drugs, then the business owners will go elsewhere. Drugs have powerful, addictive properties and our brains are just as powerful.
Addiction is a powerful word and is an even a more powerful feeling. Not everyone locked up in prison is addicted to drugs, but the ones who are enable these same people to sell them drugs. If we focus on counseling and fighting addiction, we will see the budget and prison overcrowding drop. I am a firm believer in what might have worked 20 years ago, might not work in today’s society. With prisons being filled on a daily basis, the budget for fighting the “war on drugs” growing larger, and the demand for drugs is “higher” than ever, America has got to start a new approach for this fight.
Since this is being called a “war on drugs”, then we need to change our attack strategy and try something else. Through drug treatments and counseling, we can lower numbers in all major categories and put the money in other areas where it is needed the most. References McVay, D. A. (2011, January 26). Drug War Facts: Common Sense for Drug Policy. Retrieved from http://www. drugwarfacts. org/cms/ Shane, James, Rich, & Rob. (2010) Losing Effort: The United States “War on Drugs”. Retrieved from http://visualeconomics. creditloan. com/losing-effort-the-united-states-war-on-
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