LBN’s Bob Donley reports that America’s “War on Drugs” has long been considered a lost cause by its critics. Now, says Donley, evidence suggests that the war on drugs “may be harming the very fabric of our society.”
The problem stems from an emphasis on tough, mandatory sentences for drug crimes that came into play beginning in the 1980s. The point of the laws was to combat large drug enterprises. However, the law has in fact been applied in large part to low-level drug abusers. The Huffington Post reports that, in 1960, only 16% of the inmates in federal prisons were convicted of drug offenses. Today, that number has risen to more than 50%. In 1980, Donley notes, the total number of federal inmates was about 20,000. Today, that number is about 215,000, over a tenfold increase.
Donley points out that the intention of the harsh laws was to put violent criminals in prison. But while drug offenders make up 50% of the prison population, less than 3% are in prison for murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping combined. Donley notes that most prosecutions for violent crimes are in state, not federal courts.
Donley says that state prisons have mirrored the federal system, according to Business Insider, in terms of over-population. In the 1970s, drug inmates amounted to only 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in America. Today, the number is up to 148 per 100,000. And, again, notes Donley, the convictions are not primarily for large-scale drug offenses. According to statistics from 2009, 1.6 million people were arrested in one year on drug charges, but 4 out of 5 of the arrests were for possession, not distribution of drugs.
What it all adds up to, says Donley, is that 25% of all prison inmates are in prison in the United States—2.2 million people in prison, plus 4 million on supervised probation. “That’s a lot of people behind bars in a country known as the land of the free.”
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