The issue of non-violent drug offender incarceration is a pretty serious one that needs to be reformed. It stems back to the declaration of the “War on Drugs” by President Richard Nixon in June 1971, where he proclaimed that drug abuse was “public enemy number one in the United States” (PBS, 2014). President Nixon also created the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP), and it is important to note that this was “the only time in the history of the war on drugs [where] the majority of funding goes towards treatment, rather than law enforcement.”
But we’ve seen a change in this. Less and less funding toward treatment and more toward law enforcement. And it’s getting out of hand.
Mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders is increasing, even of those who have not even been to trial yet and are awaiting their court date. On any given day, 2.3 million people in the U.S. are being held in some form of confinement whether it be a state prison, local jail, federal prison, etc., and of those, 451,000 are in prison for non-violent drug offenses “on any given day,” (Sawyer, Wagner, 2019). Communities where drug arrests are high often suffer from unemployment due to their criminal record from these drug arrests, often leading to more drug arrests and longer sentences in federal prisons. The offenders are not able to get the help they need, as it isn’t available- again the funding is going toward law enforcement, not help (Sawyer, Wagner, 219).
There are some states, however, that have ended the War on Drugs, for example, New York. The State of New York saw a decrease in drug offender arrests from about 35% in 1992, to about 11% in 2015 (Sawyer, Wagner, 2019). And with this decrease, more funding went toward “social services and community based alternatives to incarceration,” which allowed for many more opportunities substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation, saving communities and lives (Sawyer, Wagner, 219).
If we can change our policies and provide rehabilitative services to those who are so desperately in need of it, we can change our community and country for the better.
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). (2014.) Thirty years of America’s drug war. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/cron/
Sawyer, W. & Wagner, P. (March 19, 2019). Mass incarceration: The whole pie 2019. Retrieved from https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019.html