Day 7

The War on Drugs

Convictions for drug offenses are the single most important cause of the explosion in incarceration rates in the U.S.

Between 1985 and 2000, drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and more than half the rise in state prisoners. * See Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate, p. 33.

Overall, between 1980 and 2003, the number of drug offenders in prison or jail increased by 1100% from 41,100 in 1980 to 493,800 in 2003, with a remarkable rise in arrests concentrated in African American communities. *see

Drug arrests have tripled since 1980, resulting in more than 31 million people who have been arrested for drug offenses since the War began.  *see A 25-Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on Society, by Marc Mauer and Ryan King, p. 3.

There are more people in prisons and jails today just for drug offenses than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980.  *see Testimony of Marc MauerHearing on Unfairness in Federal Cocaine Sentencing: Is it time to Crack the 100 to 1 Disparity?, p. 2.

Myths of War

1. The War is aimed at ridding the nation of drug “kingpins” or big-time dealers.

Not even close.  Most drug-related arrests are not for serious offenses.  In state prisons, most people with drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity.  For example, in 2005 four out of five drug arrests were for possession and only one out of five was for sales. *see A 25-Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on Society, by Marc Mauer and Ryan King and Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, p. 60

Professor Mark Osler has some great suggestions here on how to fight the harms of drugs without relying on incarceration of low-level dealers.

2.  The War is principally concerned with dangerous drugs.

Far from the truth, arrests for marijuana possession — marijuana being a drug less addictive and less harmful than tobacco or alcohol — accounted for nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests in the 1990s.

3. The imprisoned/convicted drug offenders are the main ones doing the drug offending.

Quite untrue.  “The dramatic escalation of incarceration for drug offenses has been accompanied by profound racial and ethnic disparities. African Americans comprise 13 percent of the United States’ population and 14 percent of monthly illegal drug users, but represent 37 percent of persons arrested for a drug offense and 56 percent of persons in state prison for a drug conviction.” *from Testimony of Marc Mauer, p. 2.  Don’t forget about what I posted earlier on Day 3.

More on this War in the next few days.

For now, please make sure to read the next post about Walter as a horrifying example of this failed War.


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