What would our prisons and jails look like if programs such as the “War on Drugs” did not exist? There is no doubt in my mind we would not be seeing the astronomical numbers of people being incarcerated as we see today. We are the undisputed world champions at locking up people and simply throwing away the key. We would also save billions of dollars a year for other programs if the war on drugs was to end or slow down. With so many problems with the war on drugs, why is it still a top priority?
Richard Nixon was the first to coin the phrase “War on Drugs,” and the term fits the predicament we are in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtZaWLOSiWA. In 2007, there were over 1.8 million drug related arrests in the U.S. (bjs.org). The number of drug related arrests has gone up each year, but it is hard to tell if the drug problem is getting worse or legislation is just getting much harsher. Either way, it seems as though the War on Drugs has no ending in sight and that we are not winning this war. Perhaps more education and awareness campaigns about the ill effects of drugs need to be implemented. Parents also need to take part in this “war” by educating their children on drugs and doing whatever they can to try to prevent their children from using drugs.
Would you be surprised to know that 21% of state and 55% of federal prisoners were non-violent drug offenders in 2004 (stopthedrugwar.org)? Some sources listed the approximate cost of housing all of these drug offenders in prison per year to be around at a staggering $5 billion. However, if we were to treat every drug offender through rehabilitation, the cost would be much higher, but the effectiveness would probably also be much higher. It is proven that prison is not an effective deterrent for drug offenders, considering, many are addicted to the drug of choice or their entire income comes from the distribution of the particular substance(s). In my opinion, the only drug offenders that deserve to be in prison are those found to be distributing large amounts of drugs and those that have done other crimes while under the influence of drugs.
Incarceration is not helping the problem; it is just diverting it to another sector of the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation is both costly and very hard to get into. Most drug courts will only accept those offenders that have the best chance of success. However, if we never give some a chance then how will they ever succeed in kicking their drug habit? Once those who were incarcerated get out of prison they are once again put in close proximity to those who they used to deal and use drugs with and then the problem just continues instead of stopping. We need to get drug offenders to WANT to quit instead of just punishing them and hoping prison will deter future drug use and/or dealing, which has proven to not work.
The War on Drugs is severely bogging down the criminal justice system and there are no signs of it slowing. I am not for the legalization of any of the illegal drugs but the way we are handling the drug problem is not working and we need to reconsider the approach we are currently using. The War on Drugs has proven time and time again not to work, it is in fact creating a great strain on the criminal justice system as a whole and a great strain on the economy. Politicians and policy makers need to take a second look at drug policy, especially dealing with small amounts of marijuana, and really think if it is all of this worth it considering it is not working.