I appreciate the efforts the candidates from both parties made this election season. Cocaine Zombies is certainly not geared toward any political perspective. That said one of the more memorable lines in the political debates was Obama’s reference to horses and bayonets. Since drug addiction is a main plot point in Cocaine Zombies, I wanted to discuss the “war on drugs.” A war we as a nation have been fighting with horses and bayonets.
In the past twenty years of practicing law I have seen sentences for drug crime increase exponentially but the result has not been a proportional decrease in drug crime. The war on drugs has been devastating in terms of cost and loss of human potential. The last statistics I could find show on average it costs $31,286 per year to house an inmate. The cost of housing is a small portion of the overall costs of incarceration. This does not include the costs associated with the court system such as the salaries of judges, lawyers and probation services as well as many of the pension benefits of guards and staff.
I would argue this money for prison space is the smaller cost to society. The real cost is the loss of human potential and productivity. America imprisons more of her population than any other nation on earth. More than Russia or China. A whole impoverished segment of children are growing up without fathers because they are in prison. We are housing young and healthy individuals who should be paying taxes, not consuming government services.
Let’s throw out the bayonets and horses used to fight the war on drugs. I have seen some amazingly stupid crime in twenty years. I have seen cases involving unmasked people robbing stores with security cameras. People committing crimes they couldn’t possibly get away with—the type motivated by addiction. We need to discount the outdated idea of deterrence—that a person won’t commit a crime if the result is sure to be a long jail sentence. And let’s acknowledge the fact that prison doesn’t rehabilitate criminals. More than fifty percent of people released from prison reoffend.
What does work? I don’t know. I guess we need to experiment with different ideas and find out. What I do know is what does not work. Drug court has had mixed results, but it is a step in the right direction. Colorado and Washington State just legalized marijuana. Maybe that could have some impact. For the first time in ages there is a real discussion in politics by both parties about alternatives to prison. This has more to do with finances than anything else but it is a start. Drug abuse is a real problem that needs a solution. What does not work is locking people up for the rest of their lives.