War on drugs: what has it accomplished?

Last Sunday was April 20, and I’m sure many Guilford students were ‘celeblazing’ the day. So, let’s talk about drugs.

The war on drugs has been a massive failure. I know it, you know it.

Its goal was to reduce drug abuse, crime and drug availability while creating more treatment options for abusers. Were any of these goals reached? No.

So, what has the war on drugs resulted in? It has quadrupled the number of people in prisons since 1980.

“There’s no reason to think that there’s really a connection between the crime rate going up or down and the amount of people in prison,” said Professor of Justice and Policy Studies Jerry Joplin. “There’s no evidence that you’re going to control deviant behavior by punishing people.”

I agree. If you want to address drug abuse, throwing people in prison doesn’t work.

In addition, I’d argue drug abusers shouldn’t be going to prison at all. It’s a victimless crime. Unlike murderers or rapists, drug abusers are not hurting anyone but themselves.

Despite this situation, the country seems to be heading in the right direction. Recently, Congress has considered lowering drug sentencing on drug abusers and drug dealers.

“Certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for far too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told the U.S. Sentencing Commission last month. “Although the United States comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”

I completely support this move. I hope someday there won’t be any prison sentences for drug abuse, but this is a good start.

Many might be surprised by Holder claiming we have a quarter of the world’s prisoners, but this is really just a natural result of the system in place now. Currently, the justice system focuses almost entirely on punishment with very little rehabilitation. Repeat offenses are common.

“Drug abusers’ sentencing reduction makes a lot of sense,” said Assistant Professor of Justice and Policy Studies Sanjay Marwah in an email interview. “However, provision of treatments for those who cannot afford it, as well as returning to the same environments contributing to their abuse, makes it likely that many abusers will likely still be caught in broader social control nets.”

I agree. Once the system sucks you in, there’s really no way out.

You go to prison, serve your time and then you’re out. But now what? You have a record as a criminal, and you’re in the same environment that contributed to your offense in the first place. No one is going to hire you for a job above minimum wage, so you’re stuck, unless you commit crimes like stealing or dealing drugs. And then you’re back in prison.

The perpetuating cycle has claimed another victim.

The war on drugs is just a mess. It hasn’t reduced drug use, but it has caused a lot more suffering.

“It’s really depressing,” said Early College junior Becky Webster. “It’s a difficult problem that’s not going to end anytime soon.”

One more thing I’d like to highlight is the nature of drug crimes, which I touched on earlier. These are victimless crimes.

There’s no denying that some drugs can really mess you up. But if you decide to use a drug like heroin or meth, that’s your choice, and side effects of the drugs should be enough of a punishment. Going to prison and ruining your chance at a decent job for the rest of your life is overkill.

The war on drugs needs to end, and those who support prison sentencing for drug abusers need to think hard about what they’re actually accomplishing.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email