Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Drug Abuse is Bad; The Drug War is Worse

The Feds Have Failed; Help the States Instead

Glenn E. Martin

Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder announced major shifts in federal sentencing policy, including limiting the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for low level drug cases and allowing more drug cases to be processed in state courts. The federal government should go even further and get out of the business of drug law enforcement altogether. Instead they should provide incentives for states to focus sensible drug policies and scarce public safety resources on prevention and treatment.

Encourage states to focus drug policies and scarce public safety resources on prevention and treatment, not punishment.

After 40 years, $1 trillion and 45 million arrests, the United States remains embroiled in a war that costs more than all the rest combined: the drug war. With the federal government helping to set the pace, this decades-old war has failed practically, morally and economically, with drugs more widely available and inexpensive than ever before. Moreover, even though racial groups use drugs at approximately equal rates, black people are 10 times more likely to be sent to prison for drug offenses. Today, black Americans represent 56 percent of those incarcerated for drug crimes, even though they comprise only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Yet, while even conservative states are increasingly adopting evidence-based approaches to drug addiction, with many trending away from incarceration and repealing mandatory minimums, the Obama administration recently requested $25.6 billion in federal spending for drug law enforcement. The result of this repeated investment in heavy-handed drug law enforcement is that over half of the federal prison population was already incarcerated for drug offenses in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Perhaps the rehabilitative outcomes justify the investment? No such luck! No other industry would continue to operate with the failure rate experienced by our Federal Bureau of Prisons, with 60 percent of people released returning to prison within three years. The bureau has produced these abysmal outcomes for decades, but has continued to operate without meaningful course correction and has even grown unabated.

Why? Because our federal domestic drug control policy, launched decades ago and heavily focused on law enforcement, continues to operate on full throttle, ignoring the mounting public health evidence that strongly recommends alternative approaches.

Getting the federal government out of the domestic drug law enforcement business is not a solution to our country’s addiction to mass incarceration, but it would signal a major shift in policy. It could also encourage states to continue to create more humane, cost-effective approaches to drug use, including reducing inflexible mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses and giving judges discretion to avoid harsh sentences. 

 NYTimes: The Gun Report January 10, 2014

NYTimes: The Weekend Gun Report January 10-12, 2014

NYTimes: The Gun Report January 14, 2014

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