Pubdate: Mon, 21 Nov 2011
Source: Los Angeles Loyolan (CA Edu)
Copyright: 2011 Los Angeles Loyolan
Author: Amanda Kotch
Note: This is the opinion of Amanda Kotch, a sophomore art history 
major from Huntington Beach, Calif.


When you are living in a nation with 5 percent of the world's 
population yet 25 percent of the world's prisoners, according to a 
New York Times article printed on Oct. 29 "Falling Crime, Teeming 
Prisons," it's pretty clear that things are a bit off. Government 
spending on prisons has reached $77 billion a year, according to the 
same article. In a less-than-perfect economy, it's time for all the 
talk of reform to get put into action.

Despite the fact that crime rates have grown to levels not seen since 
the mid 1960s, the overall rate of incarceration in the past 30 years 
has increased by more than 500 percent. According the the Pew 
Research Center, around one in 100 adults in the United States are 
kept behind bars, and a significant portion of this population is 
comprised of non-violent drug offenders.

It is evident today that the "War on Drugs," launched by Richard 
Nixon in the '70s and amplified by Ronald Reagan in the '80s, is 
outdated and ineffective. Making drugs illegal rather than regulating 
them has led to a highly profitable black market. Prohibition didn't 
work then, and it isn't working now. Forget what they tell you in 
school books, the "War on Drugs" has in fact become the longest and 
most expensive war in American history.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, comprised of former presidents 
of Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, former U.N. and U.S. officials and the 
current prime minister of Greece, among others, has banded together 
to publicize the urgent need for reform on drug control policies. The 
Commission released a statement this past June stating, "Political 
leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate 
publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence 
overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve 
the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be 
won," as reported by CBS News.

With a growing concern for overcrowded prisons, California spending 
more government money on prisons than on education and news that Los 
Angeles County jails could run out of space as early as next month, 
we must decide who really needs to be put behind bars.

In a nation where taxpayers foot the bill for a prison system 
influenced more by politics than bringing about justice, the National 
Criminal Justice Commission Act deserves another look. First 
introduced in 2009 by Senator Jim Webb, the act calls for a 
bipartisan commission which would examine the criminal justice system 
and make recommendations for its improvement. "The bill is supported 
by organizations across the political spectrum, from the NAACP and 
the ACLU to the National Sheriffs' Association and the Fraternal 
Order of Police.," as stated in Huffington Post article, "Congress on 
Speed: Partisan Conflict Led to Many Problems in 1986 Drug Law" by 
Eric Sterling printed on Nov. 1. Despite passing in the House in 
2010, the bill has recently been blocked by the Republicans in the 
senate. However, Webb has stated he feels this is only a minor 
setback and will continue to push for criminal justice reform.

Government's focus on punishment rather than prevention has resulted 
in half of all police resources working to stop drug trafficking, 
rather than to curb violent crime. A zero-tolerance attitude towards 
drugs established with 1986's Anti-Drug Abuse Act has done little to 
reduce rates of drug use in the U.S. "Every year since its passage, 
America has grown thousands of tons of the world's strongest 
marijuana, produced hundreds of millions of doses of synthetic drugs, 
and sent tens of billions of dollars into the accounts of drug 
traffickers around the world," notes president of the Criminal 
Justice Policy Foundation Eric E. Sterling in Huffington Post 
article, "Congress on Speed: Partisan Conflict Led to Many Problems 
in 1986 Drug Law".

Greater focus in drug offense cases should be placed on treatment and 
rehabilitation to increase public safety. "Far too often," reports 
New York Times editorial, "Falling Crime, Teeming Prisons" printed on 
Oct. 29, "prison has become a warehouse for people with drug or 
alcohol addiction." Drug treatment programs would not only reduce the 
number of nonviolent criminals in our prison system, but would 
significantly decrease cost for taxpayers, with treatment programs 
averaging $20,000 less per person per year than incarceration for offenders.

The increasingly conservative opposition often fails to recognize 
that drug use is not likely to see significant decrease, whether it 
is legal or not. As long as the public has a demand, there will be a 
supplier who gets the product out there, whether through legal 
regulation and taxation or organized and dangerous crime.

Today, many college students' attitudes toward drugs are not so 
different from those toward alcohol. While drug use may be slightly 
more frowned upon in society, it has been on the rise for decades, as 
nearly half of full-time college students binge drink or abuse drugs 
at least once a month, according to a 2007 study by the National 
Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The "War on Drugs" needs to take a cue from 1920s prohibition 
reforms. For a stronger economy and safer nation, it's time for a change.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom