Drug War: Fail

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and member of the Global Drug Commision, has an op-ed at CNN on the failure of the war on drugs.

Here we are, four decades after Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 and $1 trillion spent since then. What do we have to show for it?

The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with about 2.3 million behind bars. More than half a million of those people are incarcerated for a drug law violation. What a waste of young lives.


In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don't do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem. Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn't in terms of real evidence and data.

Our federal prisons are operating at 38% over-capacity.

BOP’s population has increased from about 145,000 in 2000 to about 217,000 in 2011 and BOP is operating at 38 percent over capacity.

According to a September, 2012 GAO report, 48 percent of the inmates in the Bureau of Prisons were serving sentences for drugs. Inmates are being double and triple bunked. The percentage of crowding in male medium security facilities is at 51 percent and at 55 percent in high security level facilities. At the end of 2011, 81 percent of male inmates housed in low security facilities were triple bunked.

According to BOP and our observations, the growth of the federal inmate population and related crowding have negatively affected inmates housed in BOP institutions, institutional staff, and the infrastructure of BOP facilities, and have contributed to inmate misconduct, which affects staff and inmate security and safety....The growth in the inmate population affects inmates’ daily living conditions, program participation, meaningful work opportunities, and visitation.

...As a result of BOP actions to increase available bed space in its institutions to accommodate the growing federal inmate population, more inmates are sharing cells and other living units, which brings together for longer periods of time inmates with a higher risk of violence and more potential victims.

On November 29, the Bureau of Justice Statistics published its report, 2011 Correctional Populations in the United States.

  • At year end 2011, about 1 in every 50 adults in the U.S. was supervised in the community on probation or parole while about 1 in every 107 adults was incarcerated in prison or jail.
  • 7 million adults were supervised about 7 million adults. 1 in every 34 adult
    residents in the U.S. was under some form of
    correctional supervision

As to the incarcerated: The total number for 2011 is 2,239,800

  • 214,774 Federal inmates
  • 1,289,376 State inmates
  • 735,601 Inmates in local jails
  • 1,504,150 in state prisons

The U.S. now has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

What happens when you change minor drug offenses from a crime to a civil infraction? California has new statistics: adult arrests rates for marijuana plummeted by 86%, from 54,900 in 2010 to 7,800 in 2011, "levels not seen since before the Summer of Love." The statistical tables are here.

Marijuana manufacture and sales felonies fell from 16,600 in 2010 to in 14,100 2011, a rate decline of 10% among youths and 17% among adults. Overall, marijuana arrests dropped 70% in California from 2010 to 2011.

According to the National Institute of Health, in 2011, marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug, with 18.1 million current users. 8.0 million persons aged 12 or older were users of drugs other than marijuana. Put another way, 80.5% of current drug users used only marijuana while 19.5% used other drugs and not marijuana, and 16.2 % used marijuana and other drugs. 5 million Americans age 12 and older used marijuana daily in the last year.

The SAMSA report also finds 22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used a drug within the past month.

As to cocaine, 3,628,000 Americans aged 12 or older used cocaine in 2011, of whom 2,375,000 were White, 353,000 were Black or African-American, 655,000 were Hispanic or Latino. The statistical tables are here.

There were 1,531,251 arrests for drug law violations in 2011. 81.8% (1,252,563) were for possession of a controlled substance. Only 18.2% (278,687) were for the sale or manufacturing of a drug.

Many more statistics are available at Drug War Facts.

Mass incarceration is not the answer. The War on Drugs is an expensive failure.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Finally, (5.00 / 5) (#1)
    by NYShooter on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 09:13:47 AM EST
    a thread I can comment on without fear of being deleted. What can I say Jeralyn; your crusade, pointing out the tragic "Fail" that is our drug policy, if you do nothing else for the rest of your life you will have accomplished more than any person has a right to expect.

    As a battle hardened Senior, and a naturalized one to boot, I can tell you that I don't cry easily. But, what my country has done to justice, reason, fairness, common sense, and just plain old decency has me balling like a baby.

    I don't have to spell out the details, we all know them by heart. And, as one who has spent a lot of time in prisons (not as an inmate) I can also tell you that one night of being incarcerated is, and don't fight me on this, torture, by any interpretation of the word you want to use. That we have hundreds, and hundreds of thousands of (mostly) young, non-violent men who should be learning a trade, getting an education, and/or raising a family, are rotting away in a soul sucking cage is, by my definition, a crime against humanity.

    And, as we are getting ready to begin Obama's second term the thought of countless thousands of my brothers having their dignity drained from their beings will be front and center of my "what to do list."

    So, as I enter the final quadrant of a pretty fortunate life, I believe I've found the issue that just might extend this old shooter's days a little longer.

    I'll keep you posted.

    And then there's this: private prison corporations (5.00 / 4) (#2)
    by Dadler on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:52:23 AM EST
    Our most sickening private sector development over the last generation. Imagine being a lobbyist for this industry. You entire job is to make sure we have more laws that will put more people in your client's quite profitable cages. Sick, sick, sick. Beyond sick, Orwellian diseased.

    No more sick that public prisons. (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by redwolf on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 11:34:03 AM EST
    Both are institutions of mental and physical torture and should be ended.  Locking people in cages is no way to deal with crime.

    Yes, they are MUCH more sick (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Dadler on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 08:32:18 PM EST
    I am no fan of prison policy period, but leaving it to a FOR PROFIT PRIVATE CORPORATION is simply insane. I understand your point and agree with almost all of it, but I happen to think that, yes, private prisons, because of their profit motive, are simply beyond all use or morality. But if you think I'm going to defend Pelican Bay or Attica or wherever else, forget it. And the lobbying is just revolting, on top of the already revolting lock them all up policy we pursue.

    Wow! (2.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 08:44:29 AM EST

    I am no fan of prison policy period, but leaving it to a FOR PROFIT PRIVATE CORPORATION is simply insane.

    Has your opinion changed regarding those private corporations that are the prison guard unions?  They have a powerful motive to see the prisons full and wads of cash to influence politicians.



    Oy (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by sj on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 09:19:30 AM EST
    Seriously?  That's your gotcha?  For-profit prisons are an abomination. CCPOA does lobbying for "tough-on-crime" legislation (sick indeed, as Dadler says), but changing the subject to them is pure diversionary tactics.  Prison guards are not paid "per prisoner".  Unlike the owners of said prisons.

    lol. But some judges ... (none / 0) (#36)
    by Mr Natural on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 11:08:26 AM EST
    Oh, I remember that case! (none / 0) (#37)
    by sj on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 03:12:08 PM EST
    But don't you think that kind of corruption and embrace of pure evil is almost inevitable with for-profit prisons?

    Prison unions (none / 0) (#39)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 09:47:49 PM EST

    Prison unions (private organizations) are paid per member.  <ore prisoners requires more guard members.  <p> You are right that a guard is not paid more per prisoner, but that avoids the the reality of the guards union that lobbies in favor of more members necessitated by legislation that creates more prisoners.


    Amen to that! (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 11:52:26 AM EST
    The only people who, maybe, need to be in cages are the habitually hopelessly violent who give us little other choice.  A

    All others can be adequately dealt with in a more humane way...caging human beings should be a relic of a barbarian past at this point, but we do it more than ever before.  Epic f*ckin' societal fail.


    The thing that makes for-profit prisons (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by caseyOR on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 09:44:53 PM EST
    so much worse is the contracts they have with the various states. These contracts require that the state guarantee a certain level of prisoners. If the state doesn't send enough people to prison for long enough sentences, the prison company gets to collect a penalty fee from the state.

    So, if your state doesn't have enough criminals, well, officials  better go out and find some. Lengthen sentences, make more crimes subject to prison time, do whatever it takes to feed the for-profit prison monster.

    No way is a state with that kind of contractual obligation ever going to choose rehab over prison time.


    We've already (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by NYShooter on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 02:21:07 AM EST
    had judges involved in this "pay 'n play" racket.

    Let's see, when a defendant is caught committing some non-violent crime, usually the defendant, and judge/prosecutor negotiate to have the sentence "reduced." But, with our guaranteed-to-be-corrupt "for profit," private jails the longer the sentence, the more the judge gets paid.

    In the case I read about (I think it was Pa.) the judge was famous for handing down exceptionally long sentences. However, in many of the cases, especially if the defendant was poor, and uneducated, he handed out long sentences when no crime was even committed.

    I get so mad just thinking about this abuse of power I can hardly think straight.


    Bawling like a baby, perhaps, Shooter (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Peter G on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 11:39:33 AM EST
    but surely not "balling" like a baby! You've got those two very different words all balled up.  It's like, but not the same as, Little Richard singing " ... and ball tonight," while Bill Haley sings the same song as "... have a ball tonight."  Great bawls of fire, man!

    Peter, I think Jerry Lee meant "balls." (none / 0) (#13)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 07:19:46 PM EST

    the answer is self-evident (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by cpinva on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 03:23:12 PM EST
    Here we are, four decades after Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 and $1 trillion spent since then. What do we have to show for it?

    in fact, mr. branson provides it. for that $1 trillion dollars, we have the world's best penal industry (unless you're incarcerated in it). it includes union members (prison guards), attorneys, judges, police, federal/state/local agencies, private prisons. it employs 1,000's, across the globe. it provides its own "foreign aid", as well as helping (unintentionally, i'm sure) with the unemployment rate (prisoners aren't counted).

    due to the various and sundry "seizure" laws, everyone from the DEA to the local sheriff's dept. can help themselves to all kinds of goodies: cash to planes. they can also stock up on the latest para-military equipment/wear/weapons, whether they need it or not. for the federal/state/local governments, the "drug war" has been good times, good times. for the rest of us, not so much.

    The Victims of Federally Legalized Pot!!!!!! (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:11:04 PM EST
    Our Prison Industrial Complex wonders...

    "Who we gonna make money off of now?

    Jeeez, Peter, (none / 0) (#6)
    by NYShooter on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 12:48:45 PM EST
    gimme a break, will ya?

    That's what my being raised by a psychiatrist father gets you: subliminally induced gaffes, Freudian slips galore, and a Nobel appropriate essay, tragically reduced to a pathetic joke that a stand-up comic would flee from.

    And, it's all because of YOU!!

    Yeah, there's always one, isn't there Peter?  I could combine the theory of relativity with string theory producing an eternal life pill, but would you be thankful? Nooooo, you'd warm up your act, take off your Yale Law School (or, whatever) beanie and crack up the crowd with some adolescent one-liner about my life giving pill being manufactured by a "combine," a farm implement.  Oh, how they roared!

    I hope you're proud of yourself, Mr. Big Shot Lawyer-Man. But, we'll see who gets the last laugh. Years down the road, when you're curled up in a fetal position, writhing in pain, dying of some guilt induced affliction I'll be there, laughing at you, surrounded by a bevy of beautiful babes, getting layed ("layed," get it?) 24/7. Anyway, since you're probably going to rat me out for hinting at a naughty thought (I know you, Peter,) I'll take my leave now. And, while I'm gone you should get together with Anne (another one who loves to point out the shortcomings and foibles of normal people) and form a comedy act for the Improv.

    As if we don't have enough Lawyer jokes. Did you hear the one about....................

    p.s. Next time my son insists I take a day off from our business, I think I'll pass. Or, maybe this is what happens to a life-long New Yorker transplanted to Tennessee.

    Hey, just a joke. Sorry you took it personally (none / 0) (#7)
    by Peter G on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 01:48:02 PM EST
    Your response of course was right on.  Have you seen the terrific Drug War documentary, The House I Live In?

    Wow Jeralyn... (none / 0) (#8)
    by fishcamp on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 02:58:00 PM EST
    that is a lot of links to many statistics.  I think you could have posted all that even faster if you had a branny new iMac.  I certainly hope your readers are still contributing to your fund so you can keep all of us enlightened.  And yes I am appealing to everybody to help her out.  I even tried to talk her into a refurbished iMac but she convinced me she needs the new one.  Come on people keep those Apple bucks rolling in because she has not reached the 21.5" iMac amount yet.  I would send her my iMac and get a new one but then she would see all my secret stuff.  Even if I erased everything 7 times she could still get in there and find my stuff...she's the best at that.  She's better than the DOJ and their alphabet henchmen and we need to keep her that way.

    thanks fishcamp (none / 0) (#10)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 03:15:18 PM EST
    I do still need more donations to get there. And yes, that post took hours to write looking up all those statistics.

    Comments deleted that (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 02:01:02 AM EST
    mistook my response to be about computer speed. My existing computers are just as speedy as an Apple would be. The reference to the hours it took to look up statistics was about how much time I spend researching and writing and downloading documents  --it's about the effort I put into the site, regardless of which computer I use.  Donations are a means of expressing appreciation for the site, and the time, effort and funds I invest in it. The Christmas holiday season is a nice time for those who want to express their appreciation to do do so.

    I don't "need" a Mac or a faster computer, and I don't want to mislead anyone. As I said in the earlier posts, I think it's a stunning looking computer, I've been staring at it for weeks, and getting one would make my holiday very happy.

    In other words, don't send a contribution because you feel sorry for me, send it because you know it will make me happy. If you think TalkLeft has added some value to your online reading, whether  you are someone who checks in here every day to see what me, BTD or commenters are saying, or someone who comes by only for certain topics, a Christmans contribution,however small,  is a nice way to show some appreciation.


    my commentt (none / 0) (#33)
    by Amiss on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 01:09:20 AM EST
    Was meant to let yyou know that I feel that strong about helping you in some small way for all the enjoyment and thought-provoking comments I read daily on this site by this group of folks from all walks of life, all ages, all ethnic backgrounds.
    These words on this site help keep my mind sharper than it would be were it not for you, Armando and so many others.It was meant to let you know I think you deserve much more, but a "thank-you" of some form will be forthcoming.

    J (none / 0) (#26)
    by Politalkix on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 07:14:03 PM EST
    I will mail you a small donation next week so that Santa gets it before he swings by the Apple store for you.

    thank you Politikix! (none / 0) (#28)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 02:01:48 AM EST
    Haven't seen it but, (none / 0) (#9)
    by NYShooter on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 03:03:54 PM EST
    It looks really good. Will definitely seek it out. Thanks

    But, now, I have to know, am I being punk'd? For the love of (name your deity,) please, please tell me your statement, "Sorry you took it personally" was tongue-in-cheek. After reading your "Balled" response to me I was laughing so hard I thought I'd have a little fun with my response to you.

    Apparently, big mistake

    And I could understand if you hailed from someplace like (gulp) Tennessee, but you're a Philly guy for Gawd's sake.

    Oh well, maybe next time I'll flip my "just joking" propeller on my beanie but, having been raised on 176th. St & Jerome Ave. in the Bronx, that may not be possible.

    Or, better yet, I'll send my post to my brother in Palo Alto for proof reading purposes. He's a theoretical, nuclear physicist (and venture capitalist).....Magna Cum laude, PhD...... MIT, Berkeley, Harvard (and that's definitely no joke.)

    Then again, he has a problem with humor too.

    Ok, then (none / 0) (#12)
    by Peter G on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 03:31:48 PM EST
    we're even!

    Now THAT'S (none / 0) (#17)
    by NYShooter on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 02:25:50 AM EST

    score one for the Peter-Man.



    Yeah, you (none / 0) (#18)
    by NYShooter on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 02:39:34 AM EST
    just reminded me of something.

    Years ago I was the manager of a catalogue showroom. We sold a lot of high priced jewelry, watches, electronics, etc. One of the things I hated was when the "alarm" would go off in the middle of the night. Naturally, I had to drag my butt to the store and meet the officer waiting for me. And, it was a false alarm 99% of the time.

    It wasn't the inconvenience of having to wake up, get dressed, and drive about 15 miles that was so annoying. It was the cop, invariably trying to hit me up for some free "goodies" that got my goat. Not everyone, that's for sure, but enough that I remember it to this day, and I still remember that queasy feeling of "here we go again." it's not pleasant telling a cop that I don't steal company property, not even for a cop.  

    bit of a troll, wasn't that, Dubya? (none / 0) (#21)
    by jondee on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 11:44:29 AM EST
    who were you supporting, Bernie Sanders for President?

    Confusion (none / 0) (#23)
    by diogenes on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 01:26:13 PM EST
    Just because the war on marijuana failed doesn't mean that this applies to all drugs.  Google bath salts to see what life will be like if all drugs are cheaply and legally available in your neighborhood head shop.  

    Straw arguments usually aren't confusing (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Yman on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 02:17:57 PM EST
    Is someone suggesting that all drugs be made cheaply/legally available at your local head shop?

    The only reason... (5.00 / 1) (#34)
    by kdog on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 08:54:50 AM EST
    people even started using bath salts was because it was cheap and readily legally available, while the far superior and safer maruijuana was not.  Or the user feared marijuana drug screening for their employment and found bath salts.

    We can blame prohibition for bath salts, crytal meth, and assorted nasty poisons that nobody would have ever f*cked with if the good sh*t was legal, available, and affordable.


    you're confused (none / 0) (#38)
    by diogenes on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 06:55:51 PM EST
    Spice was used because "cheap and legal" marijuana was not readily available.  Bath salts are potent stimulants with substantial serotonergic activity as well.  You might substitute bath salts for the methamphetamine which is not legally available, but cheap and regulated meth is no great prize.

    Change [Suckers] Can Believe In: (none / 0) (#30)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 02:01:20 PM EST
    On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's office in Seattle warned "[r]egardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on Dec. 6 in Washington state, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. ... Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress."

    Well, that's certainly literally true, isn't it? (5.00 / 2) (#31)
    by Peter G on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 04:37:59 PM EST
    The issue is not whether the states can nullify federal law, but whether the feds will show some sensible enforcement discretion, so as not to nullify democracy.

    I'm not optimistic (5.00 / 3) (#32)
    by Zorba on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 04:50:16 PM EST
    Since the feds have continued to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, where medical marijuana is legal.
    If the feds have a problem with marijuana used for medicinal purposes, I cannot imagine that they would not have a problem with the recreational use of cannabis.