When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

07 March 2008

America's most enduring policy failure

The writers of The Wire tackle the issue of American drug policy in the pages of Time magazine:

...[T]his [drug] war grinds on, flooding our prisons, devouring resources, turning city neighborhoods into free-fire zones. To what end? State and federal prisons are packed with victims of the drug conflict. A new report by the Pew Center shows that 1 of every 100 adults in the U.S. — and 1 in 15 black men over 18 — is currently incarcerated. That's the world's highest rate of imprisonment.

The drug war has ravaged law enforcement too. In cities where police agencies commit the most resources to arresting their way out of their drug problems, the arrest rates for violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault — have declined. In Baltimore, where we set The Wire, drug arrests have skyrocketed over the past three decades, yet in that same span, arrest rates for murder have gone from 80% and 90% to half that. Lost in an unwinnable drug war, a new generation of law officers is no longer capable of investigating crime properly, having learned only to make court pay by grabbing cheap, meaningless drug arrests off the nearest corner.

What the drugs themselves have not destroyed, the warfare against them has. And what once began, perhaps, as a battle against dangerous substances long ago transformed itself into a venal war on our underclass. Since declaring war on drugs nearly 40 years ago, we've been demonizing our most desperate citizens, isolating and incarcerating them and otherwise denying them a role in the American collective. All to no purpose. The prison population doubles and doubles again; the drugs remain.

Our leaders? There aren't any politicians — Democrat or Republican — willing to speak truth on this. Instead, politicians compete to prove themselves more draconian than thou, to embrace America's most profound and enduring policy failure.

The Wire's War on The Drug War (Time, 5 Mar 2008)

They don't wind up advocating decriminalization outright... but, as a first step, they do advocate for jury nullification.

Their article was so good and so short that I was tempted to reproduce it in its entirety. I damn nearly did anyway. Go: read the whole thing.

And once you've read that, go read this:

One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 (Pew Center Public Safety Performance Project)

...and reflect on that fact that, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we lock up more people (both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of our population) than any other country on the planet:
The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world, including the far more populous nation of China. At the start of the new year, the American penal system held more than 2.3 million adults. China was second, with 1.5 million people behind bars, and Russia was a distant third with 890,000 inmates, according to the latest available figures. Beyond the sheer number of inmates, America also is the global leader in the rate at which it incarcerates its citizenry, outpacing nations like South Africa and Iran. In Germany, 93 people are in prison for every 100,000 adults and children. In the U.S, the rate is roughly eight times that, or 750 per 100,000. (source)
In case you were wondering, the "1 in 100" figure includes people who are locked up in local jails awaiting trial, explaining the 1% incarceration rate vs. the 0.75% rate of imprisonment (people who have been tried and sentenced.)

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