Pubdate: Wed, 31 May 2000
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)
Copyright: 2000 Columbia Daily Tribune
Contact:  101 North 4th Street, P.O. Box 798 Columbia, MO 65205
Author: Henry J. Waters III, publisher, Columbia Daily Tribune


Drug Crime And Crowded Jails

We're so used to it that we hardly think about the vaunted but failed "war
on drugs." News trickles out of Mexico detailing the latest gang-related
killing spree or high-level official drug-money corruption. We hardly
notice. News gushes out of the Boone County Government Building about an
imminent tax increase to fund jail expansion. We gripe about the coming
round of new taxes, but we don't spend much time thinking about why all this
new lockup space is needed. We don't relate the war on drugs to our coming
tax bite.

Oh, now and then a small discussion erupts about our most devastating
domestic social problem. The other day, federal drug czar Barry McCaffrey
said we should rely more on treatment and less on incarceration for drug
offenders. Local alternatives to jail are being tried with good success. The
new drug court and the familiar Reality House are the most effective
examples. Both substitute counseling and new-habit-forming exercises for
jail time, and both are working quite well. But in order for such
alternatives to be used energetically, we first must get over persistent
preferences for incarceration, which, after all, is good old punishment.
Treatment and rehabilitation seem more like help. Do miscreants deserve

There's one thing we should know for sure by now: The military war on drugs
does not work. Worse, it spawns most of the systematic crime that interferes
with a peaceful and serene social existence. The war on drugs very
effectively creates the black market that makes the price of otherwise cheap
drugs expensive enough to warrant the killing, mayhem and stealing that drug
lords and addicts commit. Drugs are about the only product left on Earth
with enough profit built in to underwrite personal sales representatives
calling on individual customers. Even insurance sales and service are now
more automated.

So, of course, we should end the war on drugs and see how much relief this
brings to jail crowding. We would break the back of black-market crime
overnight, just as we did with liquor Prohibition in the 1920s, and then we
could concentrate only a small portion of the saved money on anti-use
education and addiction treatment with salutary results.

If we would treat drug use as a medical and not a criminal problem, the
effect would be profound. We should try it. But do we have the corporate
imagination to face up to the demagogues who want to "send a message?" Send
the wrong message? Hell no! Let's spend a relative pittance, still a few
billions, on the most moving kind of anti-drug use propaganda. Let's
encourage parents to do their part. That's where drug use is headed off, not
by the obviously failed attempt to cut off supply by military means.
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