The lost war on drugs by the Worlds Jailer the USA!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The United States of America has the clear distinction of incarcerating more of its citizens then any other industrialized nation, with over 2.2 million incarcerated which is a 500% increase in just over thirty years. This 500% increase is also 7 times greater than in 1970 with a cost to the American taxpayer at some $60 billion a year.

The current US rate is 750 prisoners per 100,000 citizens which is several times higher than rates in Europe and is even higher than the rates in formerly repressive states like Russia or South Africa.

Drug arrests have more than tripled since 1980 to a record 1.8 million by 2005. Four of five (81.7%) drug arrests were for possession offenses, and 42.6% were for marijuana charges in 2005. Nearly six in 10 persons in state prison for a drug offense have no history of violence or high-level drug dealing. Only 14% of persons in 2004 who report using drugs in the month before their arrest had participated in a treatment program, a decline of more than half from participation rates in 1991.

The drug offenders in US prisons and jails has increased 1100% since 1980, almost half a million of those incarcerated in federal and state prisons are there for a drug offense. African Americans constitute 37% of those arrested for drugs and 56% of the inmates in state prison systems, yet African Americans only compromise 14% of the USA’s drug users. Most if not all African American citizens serve as much time in federal prison for drug offenses (58.7 months) as their white counterparts serve for violent drug offenses.

Since 1980 drug arrests in the USA have more than tripled thanks to the Reagan administration. In 2005 81.7% of drug arrests were for possession and 18.3% were for sales. Marijuana arrests increased from 1990 to 2005 by 113% and they accounted for 42.6% of the drug arrests in the 2005 calendar year. It is also worth noting that 79% of the arrests attributed to the 1990 period were for marijuana possession.

Of course many local police departments have found a way to profit from this phenomenon, in 1994 these agencies had received $1.4 billion in tangible assets even though 80% of the seizures failed to result in a criminal conviction. This disparity shows that local police departments have a financial incentive to go after those with minor drug offenses in the inner city rather than to attack violent criminal activity.

This financial incentive was somewhat diminished by the passage by congress of the “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act”, in calendar year 2000. This law required that local police agencies had to demonstrate by “a preponderance of the evidence” rather than the previous show of just “probably cause” link in regards to criminal activity. Furthermore the government had to prove that the property in question was actually involved in the commission of the crime. Previously the owner was required to prove the property was or was not involved in the criminal activity.

Along with the increased arrests which occurred in the 1980’s the sentencing guidelines became more harsh thanks in part to the “Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, as well as the, Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988”. In these new laws there were many severe minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines which were introduced tying the hands of judges across the USA. Before the sentencing guidelines were introduced the average sentence was 22 months in prison versus 62 months in 2004 with the sentencing guidelines in place.

During this period women and children were also severely affected by the new law enforcement attitudes. Incarcerated females have a much higher probability of being there for a drug offense as of 2005, 29% had been convicted of a drug offense versus 19% of men. This along with the “Federal Welfare” legislation of 1996 which includes a lifetime restriction on the receipt of welfare benefits for anyone convicted of a drug offense which is a felony. As most of these former female inmates have or will have children this adversely affects their offspring who have committed no offense other than to be born to a convicted female felon.

It is worth noting that a recent substance abuse program in California came to the conclusion that for every dollar spent on treatment resulted in a savings of seven dollars in reduced crime. This along with a recent RAND analysis where spending One Million to expand  the mandatory use of sentencing guidelines would reduce drug consumption by 13 kilograms, spending the same amount on treatment would reduce consumption by 100 kilograms.

The crack cocaine versus powdered cocaine convictions has had a disproportionate affect on the African American population. Even though two thirds of the users of crack cocaine are white or Latino, 82% of those sentenced are African American. In the federal court system selling five hundred grams of powdered cocaine a defendant will receive a five year minimum mandatory sentence versus five grams of crack cocaine which will also yield a five year minimum mandatory sentence. The average sentence for a crack cocaine defendant is 122 months in 2006, or three years longer than the 85 month sentence for powder cocaine.

This along with the fact that inner city neighborhoods are targeted by local police departments places a disproportionate amount of young African Americans in the US prison system. African Americans now serve almost as much time 58.7 months in the prison system for drug offences as their white counterparts do for a violent offense 61.7 months. In the years between 1994 to 2003 African Americans who served time in US prisons increased by 62%, while white offenders saw an increase of only 17%.

The drug war in the USA is lost in its present configuration and hundreds of thousands are suffering because of this fact, many who are African American by birth. Billions of dollars are wasted as local police departments spend most of their time attacking drugs versus combating violent offenders who commit more serious crimes. When will the congress of the USA wake up and redirect our tax dollars to a more efficient use rather than let’s lock up all the African Americans and those of the lower socio economic classes?

Our tax dollars are being misallocated by those who constantly invoke the “Lets get tough on crime” mantra, although criminal statistics as reported by the Justice Department have continually reported for more than ten years that overall crime rates have been falling for the same period.

If the citizens of the US want to get tough on crime then so be it attack crime, not low level users of drugs and those who smoke marijuana for private use. Attack those who rob, maim, kill and molest our citizens and its children.


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