Solving Prison Overcrowding with Drug Courts

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Drug Courts
Elizabeth Johnson was a model student. She was characterized by her teachers as hardworking, driven, and goal oriented. After being placed on the honor roll and graduating early from Morris High School in Will County, Illinois, she attended Northern Illinois University to become a lawyer. Within her first year at college, her life derailed. She was caught by the police and arrested for possession of marijuana. Johnson was expecting to be placed in prison but she found herself in a drug court, which assigned her mandatory drug rehabilitation. After graduating from the rehabilitation program, she went back to school at John Marshall Law School, and passed the bar exam. Now, after seven years of completing the drug program, she has not relapsed and works as a District Attorney for Will County. However, stories like Johnson’s aren’t common. For every story like hers, there are hundreds of stories where the drug user would be sent to prison, shattering his or her future (Cain). Our prisons, now host thousands of non-violent drug users. These prisons have high upkeep costs, and have led to overcrowding in some states (United States, Department of Justice). The establishment of drug courts, throughout the nation, would result in less economic costs to America, while still rehabilitating drug users successfully.

Currently a large part of the Federal budget goes to the criminal justice system and more specifically in stopping drug abuse. In 2005, the government spent 135.8 billion dollars stopping substance abuse and addiction (Lyons). This money is spent on creating new rehabilitation programs and testing facilities for drug users to attend. However, drug users attend these programs on a voluntary basis. They are able to join and leave the programs at any time (Lyons). The Federal Government is spending billions on increasing rehabilitation facilities available, but is still sending drug users to prison. The courts still assign prison as sentences for drug users, as opposed to rehabilitation (Vrecko). Now, the Department of Justice needs another $6.172 billion, on top of their current budget, for the rise in costs of federal prisons (United States, Office of Management and Budget). Our current drug policy is failing to match the Federal Government’s initiative for rehabilitation.

The current drug policy and harsh punishments has led to prison overcrowding. The New York Times reported that in California, there has been an increase of 45,000 drug users in prison. This increase has fostered the argument of California’s prisons being overcrowded. California’s prison system is overcrowded with 145% capacity. There has now been a surge of cases to the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the prisons (Liptak). Much of the problem of prison overcrowding has been linked to drug users. In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported that 51.4 percent of prisoners are in prison for drug related charges. For comparison, in 1995, the number of prisoners for drug related charges was 26.7 percent. (United States. Department of Justice.) The number of prisoners has nearly doubled due to harsher drug policies stricter punishments.

Like California, many states are dealing with a surge in drug users in prison which has resulted in an increase in upkeep costs. For example, Washington will need to build three new prisons to ensure the constitutionality of their prisons. Peter Aldhous, who earned his PhD from the University of California Berkley, wrote that each prison will cost $250 million to build and an additional $45 million to run each year. Unless Washington changes some of its drug policies, they will likely see a continued rise in the amount of drug users in prison and “prison upkeep costs”. Moreover, Aldhous expects 4.1 billion dollars to be spent on new prisons across the nation over the next decade. While this is a long-term cost to states, many states will need new beds and other items for their prisons. In...
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