Report on America as a Prison Nation, More Criticism of War on Drugs

Human Rights Watch has a new report, A Nation Behind Bars, with facts on the current state of our prison nation and recommendations to reduce our over-reliance on incarceration.

Some facts:[More...]

  • In 2011, more than 95,000 youth under the age of 18 were held in adult prisons and jails across the United States;
  • Over half (53.4 percent) of prisoners in state prisons with a sentence of a year or longer are serving time for a non-violent offense;
  • For every 100,000 Americans in each race or gender group, there are 478 white males, 3,023 black males, 51 white females, and 129 black females incarcerated in state or federal prison;
  • Almost one-third of those serving life sentences—49,081 as of 2012—have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP);
  • In 2010, 26,200 state and federal prisoners were 65 or older, up 63 percent from 16,100 in 2007;
  • Today, immigration offenses account for over 40 percent of all federal criminal prosecutions and almost 30 percent of new admissions to the federal prison system.

The recommendations:

  • Ensure that the severity of the punishment does not exceed the gravity of the crime;
  • Reform or eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws that prevent judges from being able to tailor sentences to the individual crime and the particular defendant;
  • Ensure that adolescents and children are treated in a manner appropriate to their age and capacity for change, and that they are not subjected to all the same criminal procedures and sanctions as adults;
  • Reduce or eliminate criminal sanctions for immigration offenders, especially those who have done nothing more than enter the country illegally;
  • End criminal sanctions for possession of illegal drugs for personal use; and
  • Ensure that criminal law is not by its terms or enforcement biased against any racial, ethnic, or religious group, as for example, in the disproportionate enforcement of drug laws against black people in the US.

I would add one more:

Stop the extradition of drug traffickers from Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and everywhere. Let their home countries jail them and spend their dollars, instead of ours. Curtail the DEA. We don't need a global police force. If the home countries won't act, then perhaps it's time for our government to finally admit that the War on Drugs is a failure. It breeds violence and doesn't put a dent in drug trafficking.

Colombia's police chief recently called on the U.S. to strengthen extraditions. The U.S. should just say no.

The London School of Economics today is releasing a report on the failed war on drugs. It concludes the war has done more harm than good.

George Soros has an op-ed in the Financial Times, "A Futile War on Drugs that Wastes Money and Wrecks Lives." He says it's a $1 trillion failure. Here's a snippet:

Drug prohibition has created an immense black market, valued by some at $300bn. It shifts the burden of “drug control” on to producer and transit countries such as Afghanistan and Mexico. This approach also fails to grapple with a basic truth: drug markets are highly adaptive. Repress the business in one country and it springs up elsewhere.

Consider Colombia. When its law enforcement agencies made progress cracking down on the country’s cocaine trade, much of the criminal business and the violence that goes with it moved to Mexico. The LSE report estimates that after 2007, Colombia’s interdiction policies accounted for more than 20 per cent of the rise in Mexico’s murder rate.

Bogotá had a lot of mayhem to export. The explosion of the illegal drug market between 1994 and 2008 “explains roughly 25 per cent of the current homicide rate in Colombia. That translate into about 3,800 more homicides per year on average that are associated with illegal drug markets and the war on drugs”, according to the report. This type of violence takes a massive economic toll; corporations relocate, foreign investment dries up, industries decline and citizens flee in search of a better life.

Aside from the cost of investigation and prosecution, we spend $25,000 or more per year to incarcerate each one in our federal prisons, and there are thousands of them, many of whom are serving double digit sentences or longer. The extraditions may also be fueling violence.

By the numbers: From the State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume I, Drug and Chemical Control, March 2104:

  • Since 1997, Colombia has extradited over 1,600 individuals to the United States. In 2013, Colombia extradited 132 persons to the U.S., most of whom were drug traffickers.
  • Mexico extradited 54 people to the United States in 2013 and 115 individuals in 2012.
  • The Dominican Republic is the fourth most active extradition partner to the United States. It extradited 31 persons to the United States in 2012, and 29 through the first 10 months of 2013.
  • Guatemala extradited 4 drug traffickers in the first 10 months of 2013.
  • The Haitian Constitution prohibits extradition of Haitian nationals, but the Government of Haiti has willingly surrendered Haitians and other nationals under indictment in the United States to U.S. law enforcement agencies.
  • The 1999 Venezuelan constitution bars the extradition of Venezuelan nationals. Venezuela periodically deports non-Venezuelan nationals to the United States to face drug-related charges.
  • In Panama, the Constitution does not allow extradition of Panamanian nationals. Panama has agreed to prosecute wanted individuals in Panama in lieu of extradition. (Why don't we work towards having those agreements with all these countries?)

How's this for irony: The report says the U.S. is helping El Salvador develop a new classification system to reduce prison overcrowding. Yet it does nothing at home.

The report has a special section on the DEA. The DEA has 86 foreign offices in 67 countries. In 2013, DEA conducted bilateral training seminars for approximately 14,070 participants from 94 countries.

How about our border patrol? There's a special section on them in the 2014 report as well.

CBP deploys approximately 46,346 law enforcement officers daily in 26,000 tactical vehicles, 260 aircraft, 290 watercraft, 367 horse patrols and 1,580 canine teams to keep our border secure.... The Office of Field Operations (OFO) oversees nearly 28,000 employees with more than 21,775 dedicated officers and 2,414 Agriculture Specialists that protect U.S. borders from 20 Field Offices, 329 ports of entry, 15 preclearance stations in Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean and 58 Container Security Initiative Ports.

The Office of Border Patrol (OBP)... drug interdiction activity includes staffing 139 stations within 20 sectors, with 31 permanent checkpoints nationwide.

The Office of Air and Marine (OAM) engages in air and marine interdiction, law enforcement, and air domain security. It targets the conveyances that illegally transport narcotics, arms, and aliens across U.S. borders and in the Source, Transit and Arrival Zones.

....In FY 2012, the P-3 Air Wing accounted for 117, 103 pounds of cocaine either seized or disrupted with a value of $8.76 billion. The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) flew a record 5,737 hours in FY2012, the most in the program’s history. UAS missions contributed to the seizure of more than 66,500 pounds of narcotics.

Let's not leave out the Coast Guard:

In 2013, the USCG expended over 2,900 cutter days, 900 Airborne Use of Force capable helicopters days, and 8,000 surveillance aircraft hours on counterdrug patrols. USCG also deployed 17 LEDETs aboard U.S. Navy, British, Dutch and Canadian warships. As a result, the USCG disrupted 144 drug smuggling attempts, which included the seizure of 64 vessels, detention of 230 suspected smugglers, and removal of 88 metric tons (MT) of cocaine and 37 MT of marijuana.

We're spending money like drunken sailors on the war on drugs abroad and seizing massive quantities of drugs and dollars, yet drugs are as readily available as ever. We stop the labs in Colombia and they just move to Peru. We deal a crushing blow to one drug organization and another steps up to take its place, leaving scores of persons dead in the fight for dominance.

The U.S-driven global war on drugs is nothing but a losing proposition, feeding our prison over-population problems and bleeding us dry.

< Colombia and the Plan to End World Drug Trafficking Embroils President's Chief Strategist | Uruguay Releases Guidelines for Legal Marijuana Market >
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  • Display: Sort:
    Great post Jeralyn (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by Slado on Thu May 08, 2014 at 12:46:24 PM EST
    If you haven't had the chance I highly suggest you check out the recent Frontline specials on our prison system.

    Prison State

    They did two excellent pieces.  One on solitary confinement and another on how people get trapped in the system and the problems that causes for communities and the system as a whole.

    Our prison system as one person points out in the piece should be for people we're scared of, not mad at.

    The mentally ill and drug addicts should not be filling up our prisons because once they get in the system it is almost impossible for them to stay out.  

    This is a huge issue that does not get enough attention.   If we really want to help out the poor and minorities we need to stop locking them up for being addicted to drugs, or mentally ill.   It's ruining communities, families and causing more problems then it can ever hope to solve.

    Nice to be in total agreement... (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by kdog on Thu May 08, 2014 at 01:52:40 PM EST
    on one ol' buddy!  

    This national tragedy should really be a bipartisan issue, and I think the vast majority of citizens would agree when presented with the ugly facts...whether conservative, liberal, and in between.  Especially those who identify as having christian morals...or any morals;)

    Yet the liberal and conservative parties seem to be in lock-step that there's no societal problem more prisons can't fix...a few recent positive developments from Obama & Holder aside.


    This is not a partisan issue (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Slado on Thu May 08, 2014 at 04:39:36 PM EST
    but a freedom and societal issue.

    Democratic and Republican Governors, legislatures, congressman and presidents have all been locking people up for years.

    The expanse of our federal and state prison systems is just another inevitable side effect of ever increasing government.    

    Nobody likes to address it but several factors have gotten us here...

    1. War on drugs
    2. Destruction of the family unit in inner city and poor rural communities
    3. Dismantling of our mental health hospitals
    4. Minimum sentencing laws
    5. Expansion of the prison lobby and increased funding for new and hi tech prisons.   If you build them they will come.

    Pick your favorite reason based on your partisan persuasion but like most American tragedies it takes true bipartisanship to get us in this sad state.

    Much like the financial crisis you can't ruin something so thoroughly without both parties chipping in.


    Our incarceration addiction... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by kdog on Thu May 08, 2014 at 06:03:57 PM EST
    has been one of the major causes, along with the loss of blue collar mfg jobs, with the destruction of the family unit.  Mom and/or Dad can't parent from prison...sh#t my buddy went to prison trying to   provide for his daughter!

    Not to mention the institutional racism and classism   present in our justice system.

    Truly sick stuff bro...if it's not our most pressing issue, it's our most morally pressing issue for sure.


    Amen (none / 0) (#1)
    by Green26 on Wed May 07, 2014 at 11:34:43 PM EST
    I agree with all of this. It's both wrong and incredibly expensive to incarcerate so many people.

    I have thought, for many years, that part of sentencing ought to be analysis of the cost of the various sentencing possibilities. Every federal and state court should require this.

    Sentencing the taxpayer ... (none / 0) (#8)
    by Mr Natural on Fri May 09, 2014 at 11:25:57 AM EST
    Thanks for the info and reports. (none / 0) (#2)
    by DFLer on Thu May 08, 2014 at 08:00:31 AM EST

    This has seemed like a no brainer for a LONG (none / 0) (#7)
    by Mikado Cat on Fri May 09, 2014 at 12:19:25 AM EST
    time, but in national politics people are still acting like its 1950. Where is the pushback to ending the war on drugs coming from?