Tuesday, August 6, 2019
The war on drugs and the United States criminal justice system Essay Example for Free
The war on drugs and the United States criminal justice system Essay Compiled by Drug Policy Alliance. August, 2001. Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a mans appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded. Abraham Lincoln The link between racial discrimination and the war on drugs exists not only in the United States but also throughout much of the world. In one country after another racial and ethnic minorities are targeted and persecuted in the name of the war on drugs. Criminal laws often focus on psychoactive drugs used by minority populations, while other more commonly used drugs are legal, and their abuse properly treated as problems for health care providers, not criminal justice systems. In most countries, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately targeted, arrested, prosecuted and punished for drug offenses. The reliance on incarceration as the principal means of punishment in the United States has escalated to the point that there are now more than 2 million Americans in the countrys state and federal prisons. The United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are over-represented throughout the U. S. prison system. However, nowhere in the criminal justice system is the disparity between the arrest, detention, conviction and sentencing of people of color and Whites more brutally obvious than in the case of the war on drugs. Racism Permeates Drug Law Enforcement. Unequal treatment of minority group members pervades every stage of the criminal justice system. Racial profiling, street sweeps, buy and bust operations and other police activities have targeted people in street level retail drug transactions in low-income communities of color. Blacks and Latinos are victimized by unfair treatment by police; by racially skewed charging and plea bargaining decisions by prosecutors; by discriminatory sentencing practices and by the failure of judges, elected officials and other criminal justice policy makers to redress the inequities that have come to permeate the system. The rate of drug admissions to state prison for black men are thirteen times greater than the rate for white men. A recent report by Human Rights Watch found that while drug use is consistent across all racial groups, Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted and given long sentences for drug offenses. Blacks constitute 13 percent of all drug users, but 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession, 55 percent of persons convicted, and 74 percent of people sent to prison. (1) Nationally, Latinos comprise almost half of those arrested for marijuana offenses(2) and Native Americans comprise almost 2/3 of those prosecuted for criminal offenses in federal courts. (3) The racial bias of the drug war is exemplified by the 100 to 1 disparity in prison sentences for crack versus powder cocaine. As scientists and courts alike have declared, there is no rational basis for distinguishing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Nonetheless, in 1994, 90 percent of persons convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses were Black, six percent Latino, and less than four percent White. Federal powder cocaine offenders were 30 percent Black, 43 percent Latino, and 26 percent White. (4) Domestically, U. S. drug policy is fueled by historical bias against racial minorities used to justify their disproportionate presence in the penal system. The impact these policies have had on social structures and political power in Black and Latino communities has been devastating. As a result of the war on drugs poor communities of color have been politically weakened by laws that disenfranchise voters for felony convictions and provide economic incentives for rural communities to embrace prisons as a form of economic development. The prevailing theory about prisons in many locales is If we build them, they will come. There is a self-perpetuating, cyclical quality to the treatment of Blacks and Latinos in the U. S. criminal justice system. Much of the discrimination visited upon these groups stems from the perceptions of criminal justice decision-makers that (1) most crimes are committed by minorities, and (2) most minorities commit crimes. Although empirically false, these perceptions cause a disproportionate share of law enforcement attention to be directed at minorities, which in turn leads to more arrests of Blacks and Latinos. Disproportionate arrests fuel prosecutorial and judicial decisions that disproportionately affect minorities and result in racial disparities in incarceration. The accumulated effect is to create a prison population in which Blacks and Latinos increasingly predominated, which in turn reinforces the misperceptions that justify racial profiling and punitive drug policies. Recommendations Affluent predominantly white suburban communities have long recognized that the drug war need not be fought only on the incarceration front. Alternatives such as drug treatment and education are mainstays of white, middle-class efforts to reduce drug abuse in their neighborhoods. A strategy centered on such demand reduction efforts makes sense: The Rand Corporation has estimated that investing an additional $1 million in drug treatment programs would reduce by fifteen times more serious crime than enacting more mandatory sentences for drug offenders. (5) But when it comes to the presence of drugs in poor communities of color, the response of policymakers is to build prisons rather than treatment facilities. If the government of the United States is truly committed to eliminating racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and fulfilling its responsibility as a party to CERD, there must be an end to racial profiling, mandatory minimum drug sentences, and civil disabilities for felony convictions. Police, prosecutors and other criminal justice decision-makers must be held accountable for their discretionary decisions. Moreover, there must be clear acknowledgement on the part of the U. S. government that the war on drugs is a failed policy that is doing more harm than good, particularly to people of color. Notes: 1. Human Rights Watch Report: Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, May 2000 Vol. 12, No. 2 (G). 2. John D. Couriel, Keep It Real: Recasting the drug debate in terms of accountability and opportunity.3. U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Indians are Violent Crime Victims at Double the Rate of the General Population, news release, Feb. 14, 1999 4. 1. 4 million black men or 13% of the black male adult population are disenfranchised, reflecting a rate of disenfranchisement that is seven times the national average. 5. Jonathan P. Caulkins, et al. , Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers Money, Rand, Santa Monica, 1997, p. xxiv.