Prison and The War on Drugs
Week One Assignment CJA 234
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Prison and the War on Drugs.
The war on drugs has been implemented for more than 30 years. Currently, there are close to a half million persons imprisoned on drug charges in this country. That is a tenfold increase over the 50,000 in 1980. (jrank.org, 2011) In the past few years, close to $40 billion has been spent annually fighting the war on drugs. As a result of the drastic increase in drug-related arrests and convictions, the United States currently has the largest prison system in the world. The majority of these are nonviolent criminals. The estimated prison population is around nine million. The United S accounts for approximately a fourth of this number. “With an incarceration rate of 724 per 100,000 inhabitants, the United States is the unchallenged world leader in both raw numbers and imprisonment per capita In terms of raw numbers, only China, with almost four times the population of the US, comes close with about 1.5 million prisoners. Our closer competitors in incarceration rates are Russia (638 per 100,000) and Belarus (554)”, according to the British government's World Prison Population report (National Archives, 2003). Currently, the majority of police departments have paramilitary units, or SWAT teams, many of which have received their training from military instructors. One of the main duties of these teams is to carry out drug-related search warrants. Many of these are what are called ‘no-knock’ entries, which means the officers are authorized to enter the premises to be searched without any warning to the occupants. This is so the suspects do not have time to either flee or hide or destroy any evidence. The sudden increase of drug-related arrests and convictions is one of the main causes of the current prison overcrowding situation. The overcrowding makes it very difficult for the prison staff to handle the inmates and causes some of the conditions for inmates to be less than optimal. Although the incarceration rates for crimes such as murder, robbery, and burglary have remained steady during this time, the rates for drug-related crimes have steadily risen. Currently, more than half of the prisoners in federal prison federal are there because of drug possession or drug use. This has caused the federal prison system to be much overloaded. State prisons are overcrowded as well, but because many drug charges are federal offenses, they are not affected as much. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people sentenced for drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners (Stop The Drug War.org, 2005). Since the war on drugs started in the 1980’s, many of the inmates in the prison system are on violent drug users or small time traffickers who pose little danger to the community. Most of these inmates could benefit more from treatment and rehabilitation programs rather than incarceration. Although most prisons today have these sorts of programs, it is much more financially logical to have them attend these programs without needing to pay to house them at the same time. The state of Arizona has adopted a policy in which all addicted offenders from prisons to probation. This is the result of a referendum labeled the Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act, which was approved by voters by a 65 to 35 percent margin (National Archives, 2003). An appeals court judge has pointed out that compared to the typical Arizona offender who now gets probation and treatment, "the same guy in the Federal system is going to get a mandatory five-year sentence" (Wren, 1999). This action has reduced the number of inmates and increased the number of drug offenders receiving treatment. Although Arizona is the only state that has an automatic diversion system, other states have started using drug courts. These divert nonviolent drug offenders into community-based treatment programs. Several states are also instituting early release programs for nonviolent offenders. A popular program, which has proved to be very effective, is shock incarceration, commonly known as Boot Camp. The inmates are subjected to a regimen very similar to military basic training. The combination of physical exercise along with education, and strict discipline has proved to have a higher success rate than other programs in the past. I believe that the war on drugs has resulted in more people being arrested and convicted on drug-related charges, but has not really done much to reduce the actual number of drug offenders. Merely incarcerating them is not the solution. I believe that diversion and intensive treatment and rehabilitation programs will go a lot farther that simply locking the offenders up. Without education and reconditioning, they will just go right back out and resume their former lifestyles and activities. Another factor is that while many of those convicted of drug-related offenses are nonviolent and often first time offenders, the same cannot be said of the other inmates they will be exposed to and influenced by during their incarceration. They may come out of prison in a worse state than when they entered it in that respect. In my opinion, intensive rehabilitation, treatment and supervision programs will have a much better, long lasting effect than incarceration for these types of offenders. References
JRank.org, Prisons: Problems and Prospects - Prisons And The War On Drugs., (2011). Retrieved from: http://law.jrank.org/pages/1809/Prisons-Problems-Prospects-Prisons-war-on-drugs.html#ixzz1d4GEsfNO National Archives, World Prison Population List, fourth edition, (2003). Retrieved from: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110218135832/http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r188.pdf Stop The Drug War. org, Drug War Prisoner Count Over Half a Million, US Prison Population at All-Time High, (2005). Retrieved from: http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle-old/409/toohigh.shtml
Wren, Christopher S. "Arizona Finds Cost Savings in Treating Drug Offenders: Probation Program, not Prisons, for Addicts." New York Times, 21 April 1999.