The U.S. lost the war on drugs
The war on drugs commenced in the 1980s as part of a larger tough-on-crime initiative in the United States. Since these policies were enacted on federal and state levels, arrests for drug offenses have more than tripled—approaching 2 million per year.
Unfortunately, U.S. drug policy has expanded the prison drug offender population without effectively subduing the drug market. Moreover, mandatory minimum sentences significantly limit judges’ discretion in drug cases and are often terribly unfair, placing many non-violent men and women behind bars for low-level selling activity while drug kingpins continue freely in their work.
These policies have particularly contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of incarcerated women. Between 1986 and 1996, the number of female inmates in state correctional systems for drug offenses rose by 888%. Additionally, racial minorities disproportionately suffer from such sentencing as drug enforcement efforts target minority communities. Drug offenders face a bleak reentry situation due to funding shortages for addiction recovery programs in impoverished communities; lack of in-prison treatment; inadequate rehabilitation options; and the barring of former drug users from receiving public welfare benefits that they may need upon release from prison.
Drug sentences should target high-level dealers while allowing judicial discretion in all cases. Accordingly, federal law enforcement should focus on high-level and international traffickers while leaving most low-level cases to the states to prosecute. These crucial reforms will counteract the growing prison population, while making the war on drugs a smarter battle.