Is America Ready To Move Past The War On Drugs? Attorney General Holder Believes So
In the past two years the U.S. has finally taken steps to change its outdated rhetoric and move past its obsession with the unwinnable War on Drugs. Since the ratification of Amendment 64 on November 6, 2012, it seems that an America with more progressive drug laws and incarceration policies is becoming a clearer vision. It is no secret that the U.S. desperately needs to improve its clearly broken prison system. Since 2002 America has had the world’s highest incarceration rate and by the end of 2011 there were 2.2 million Americans behind bars, 845,000 on parole and close to 4 million on probation. To put that in some perspective, that means 1 out of every 34 adults has been processed by the American correctional system (BJS).
These staggering statistics aren’t only terrifying to you and me, but also unnerving to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who in August instructed federal prosecutors to cease charging many nonviolent drug offenders with offences carrying mandatory minimum sentences (BBC). While testifying before the US Sentencing Commission, Holder promoted a new policy that was first proposed in January, which would shorten prison sentences for a majority of drug dealers. Holder believes that this new direction of justice could have a tremendously positive impact on communities who he believes are “trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration.”
Holder’s new take on law enforcement and justice in America is a refreshing transition from the outdated policies of the “just say no” days of the Reagan administration. In the 90’s many states and the federal government adopted a policy that lengthened the sentences of drug offenders, even those who perpetrated nonviolent crimes, resulting in convicts servings stints in prison that were disproportionately severe compared to the seriousness of their actual crimes. Furthermore, states adopted the famous “three strikes and you’re out” rule that sent convicts away for especially long sentences when they committed their third felony, most often 25 years to life. Young African-American men have become the most common casualty of the War on Drugs. Black males between the ages of 18 and 34 were six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males of that same age range. In 2008, it was found that a young black male without a high school diploma was more likely to be in jail (37%) than to be working (26%)(prb.org).
The War on Drugs is raging into what will be its fifth decade and the U.S. has little to show for it besides laughably exorbitant costs (the U.S. has spent over $1 trillion fighting the war on drugs) and having close to a quarter of the world’s imprisoned population. Even conservatives have begun to see the folly in pursuing this archaic witch hunt. America’s prisons have become little more than stockades to herd criminals out of sight rather than centers for rehabilitating the troubled. Although there has been a two decade long downward trend in crime, lengthier prison sentences aren’t the only or even the main contributor to this development. Among these other contributing elements are the improvement of policing techniques, the decline in the popularity of crack and most notably the depletion of lead contamination in the environment.
Although this new proposal is only a modest one, it seems that it is finally time for our nation to abandon judicial tactics that more closely resemble the Code of Hammurabi than the common sense policies we need to solve 21st century issues. With about 51% of Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana (cbs.com), it is becoming increasingly evident that we are on a path of reformation and leaving behind the harsh boogie-man tactics of the last fifty years.