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4 Reasons Jailing Drug Offenders Doesn’t Work

Attorney General Eric Holder recognizes that the ongoing “war on drugs” approach is an outdated vestige from the 1970s that just isn’t working.

Holder went on to say that this attitude and approach has led to excessive incarceration, which has become “ineffective and unsustainable.” In response, Holder wants to enact new steps that can address “shameful” racial disparities when it comes to sentencing, the economic strains of overpopulation in prisons, and policies for incarceration that aim to punish and rehabilitate, “not merely to warehouse and forget” inmates.

Here are 4 reasons jailing drug offenders doesn’t work.

#1. High Recidivism

That is to say, that it’s like a revolving door with the same addicts and alcoholics returning time and time again to jails and prisons for the same or similar drug-related offenses. This is because these folks are getting the much-needed treatment that’s necessary for addressing the problem of addiction. Instead, they’re being thrown in with the general population to serve out their time. And the cycle continues.

#2. Racial Disparities

A lot of research has been done on the socio-economic class and ethnicity of convicts and ex-convicts and it shows an alarming trend: that there is a blatant discrepancy when it comes to who is more likely to go to jail. Holder has said that “unwarranted disparities are far too common” in the criminal justice system. He added, “there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.”

Holder said the nation “must confront the reality” that once people of color are in the criminal justice system, they often face harsher punishments than their white counterparts. He called it “unacceptable,” “shameful” and “unworthy” of the U.S. legal tradition.

#3. Prison Overcrowding – Staggering Statistics

The prison population in the U.S. has grown by almost 800% since 1980, and federal prisons are operating at nearly 40% over their capacity.

“Even though this country comprises just 5% of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. More than 219,000 federal inmates are currently behind bars,” Holder said, further noting that almost half of that number are people who are serving time for drug-related crimes and who have substance abuse problems.

When it comes to local jails, Holder said 9 million to 10 million more people cycle each year. And roughly 40% of former federal prisoners – and more than 60% of former state prisoners – are re-arrested or have their supervision revoked within three years of their release.

#4. Economic and Social Burden

The state of affairs of the American justice system is taking a massive toll on the economy that trickles down to the community and finally the individual level.

Overcrowding at the federal, state and local levels is “both ineffective and unsustainable,” Holder said. For instance, in 2010 alone, overcrowding of jails and prisons made a dent in the U.S. economy to the tune of $80 billion, according to Holder.  He added that this sort of thing brings with it “human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

Legislation to lessen the use of mandatory minimums, Holder said, would ultimately save the United States billions.

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