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Beyond Mass Incarceration

May 31, 2018 in Economics

By Jonathan Blanks

Jonathan Blanks

Earlier this month, the
Trump White House held a bipartisan event supporting prison reform,
including good time credits for low-level offenders. Mass
incarceration has indeed become the primary focus in the world of
criminal justice reform, with many of the most popular reforms
focused on sentencing and community reentry for nonviolent drug
offenders. And although much can and should be done for those who
have been incarcerated, there are many more victims of the the drug
war’s abuses than just those who end up in prison. In addition to
the millions of people arrested each year for misdemeanor drug
possession, countless people who will never step foot into a jail
or prison nonetheless have been harassed and searched by police
looking for drugs or their proceeds.

And the same incentives that drive police to make so many
arrests and searches can also influence them to lie about how and
why any search or arrest was legal. For example, if a police
officer says he “smelled marijuana” emanating from a car during a
stop, he can use that as probable cause to search a car, whether or
not the smell was real. In addition, low-level dealers who are
arrested are sometimes coerced into becoming informants and setting
up stings with larger dealers, often at their own peril. What’s
more, the potential profits in the illicit drug trade can lead
unscrupulous officers to use their authority as
cover for criminal enterprise
. In other words, on both the
individual and institutional levels, prosecuting the drug war has
corroded the integrity of law enforcement and its officers.

Just as Prohibition failed to make America dry again, the
federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and local enforcement of
drug prohibition have likewise failed to keep Americans sober. But
during Prohibition, enforcement resources primarily went to curb
the supply of illicit hooch to the American public. Even
at the height of Prohibition Era, American law enforcement focused
on those who were responsible for supplying black market booze, not
those who were drinking. In today’s drug prohibition regime,
front-line police officers also go after the demand side
by arresting users and low-level peddlers of drugs, who are often
one in the same, rather than focusing primarily on high-end
traffickers. To put this in perspective, and despite legalization
and decriminalization efforts around the country,
more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession in 2016 than
for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault …combined.
Is this what “to protect and to serve” is supposed to look
like?

In other words, on both
the individual and institutional levels, prosecuting the drug war
has corroded …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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