The war on drugs has unequivocally failed to meet every one of its stated goals. We have bravely fought the war on drugs for more than 40 years – arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning at ever-increasing levels. We have spent well over a trillion dollars and made more than 39 million arrests of nonviolent drug users.
Ask yourself this simple question: Has it worked? As most of us can answer from experience: No. The war on drugs has never worked. Today, drugs are cheaper, more potent, and easier to get than they were in 1970 when the war on drugs began. On federal surveys, teenagers consistently report that it’s easier to buy marijuana than alcohol, which is legal and age-regulated. And beyond its failure, the war on drugs has had unintended but devastatingly violent consequences. As with alcohol prohibition, drugs are under the control of bloodthirsty cartels fighting over untaxed profits and killing police and innocent civilians in their crossfire.
The correctional system’s goal of using punishment and rehabilitation in order to protect society from criminals is not well-served by our policy of prohibition. Though any criminal justice professional can tell you that harsh drug laws are not a deterrent, we continue to put people in jail for drug crimes, overcrowding prisons and letting violent criminals go. Instead of supervising high-risk offenders, we find ourselves urine testing non-violent probationers and sending them back to jail when they fail.
Overcrowded prisons are bad for society and a daily threat to many of us. In states like California, prisons have been ordered by courts to reduce populations due to unconstitutional conditions. Jammed prisons make our jobs more dangerous. Focusing corrections on criminals who are truly dangerous to society would bring us back to our purpose and give us a safer and more rewarding workplace.