Since the “War on Drugs” began, the rates of those incarcerated for drug-related crimes has increased drastically. Did you know that from 1978 to 2008, the number of prisoners in state and federal prisons increased from 294,000 to 1.4 million? And that 62% of the top two crimes of those incarcerated in 2015 were for non-violent crimes related to drugs and immigration offenses?
This increase in non-violent offenders in state and federal prisons has had a disproportionate effect on minorities (only 23% of those incarcerated were Caucasian) and has placed incredible stressors on our criminal justice system. By way of example, the average daily cost to manage an offender who is imprisoned is $79, whereas it is only $7 for parolees and $3 for probationers.
Not surprisingly, given the high incarceration rate, between 1983 and 2008, 88% of new state spending for corrections was funneled to prisons for probation and parole expenses. And, from 1980-2013, state prison spending increased fourfold and federal prison spending increased by seven times. For those reasons, among many others, federal judges have long struggled with, and some have been critical of, the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. Even so, change has been slow to come.
Unfortunately, even when change does come, it will be difficult to reverse the effects the massive levels of incarceration for non-violent crimes on our culture as a whole. For starters, the incarceration rate has been so high that even the gradual early release of these individuals into the population will be difficult since the post-conviction services may not be equipped to handle the influx of recently released prisoners.
It’s a sad state of affairs and reversing the effects of the failed “War on Drugs” will take time. And for many of those imprisoned under these policies, the effects will be long-lasting and difficult to overcome. The good news is that the tide is turning, slowly, but surely. But for some, it’s not happening quickly enough. For now, the incarceration rates remain depressingly high, as you can see from the infographic below. Let’s hope that the next time we re-visit this topic, the statistics will have changed–for the better.
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