Why Prohibition Failed to Control American Alcohol Consumption

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A single sketchy light flickers in a dark room. The smell of pure, hard liquor (most likely moonshine), permeates the air. Screams, laughter, shattering glass, and the freshly-made whiskey are shared by all in the dingy lair--until a stern knock cuts through the noise, silencing and destroying the night. It was this scenario and countless others like it that defined American Prohibition, also known as “The Noble Experiment”, a ban on any intoxicating beverage from 1920 to 1933. Reasons Prohibition was enacted was to correct corruption and reduce prison numbers, solve social unrest, lower taxes, and improve hygiene and health of the people. However, Prohibition ultimately failed in its attempt to control the behavior and vices of its citizens.

One particular issue that arose from Prohibition was that it fostered corruption; poor, young immigrants gradually morphed into mobs and general crime became organized. Extensive crime syndicates solidified and what is now colloquially known as the “Mafia” formed. The public had nowhere else to turn but these bootleg distilleries (dubbed “speakeasies”), because the method of getting in was a password--and by the end of Prohibition, over one million gallons of liquor had been bootlegged and brought into the United States alone. Not only had organized crime increased, but most crimes in general did, too. In addition to distilling alcohol illegally, police budgets in the period of Prohibition had increased by 11.4 million dollars (adjusted for today’s inflation, more than 140.5 million dollars). Total federal expenditures on penal institutions increased by a whopping 1000%. Homicides, civil unrest, the prison population, and Prohibition violations had actually increased during Prohibition. The demand for alcohol and the elimination of the public’s legal supply ultimately played a large part in the spike in crime during this era.

Besides the fact that crime multiplied uncontrollably, Prohibition was also practically...
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