Essay about Drugs: An American Penal Epidemic

Submitted By Tania-De Jesus
Words: 1863
Pages: 8

Tania De Jesus
Prof. Correll
ENG 111
16 June 2014
Drugs: An American Penal Epidemic Should drug offenders be punished harshly for their crimes, or should they be treated for their offenses? That is one of the questions in great debate here in America. The land of the free is currently prosecuting drug related offenders, creating an almost unstoppable cycle of drug crime. The high number of drug related offenders in the US prison system is a result of the failing and expensive "war on drugs" that has led to some offenders' inhumane punishment, while others are given ineffective treatment, creating the rates of recidivism observed among these individuals. Internationally, the US has the highest rate of incarceration. In a 1998 article in the U.S. News & World Report, it was estimated that there were 645 out of 100,000 Americans imprisoned ("Behind Bars" par. 1). By 2003, the US accounted for 22.4% of the world's prison population, according to the article, "How to Really End Mass Incarceration", written by Vinita Gupta, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union (par.3). In the article "Addiction and Substance Abuse" it is implied that in 2009 more than 2% of the US was either under court supervision or incarcerated, with nearly half of those individuals struggling with drug abuse and/or addiction ("AG's Call To Move Drug Offenders Out Of Federal Prison Increases Treatment Role" par. 46). These statistics are alarming, especially when we take into account that most of these individuals got there as a result of the "war on drugs". The amount of money America has spent on the "war on drugs" is heinous. Since President Richard Nixon declared drugs to be "public enemy number one" in 1971, the US has spent over $1 trillion funding the campaign, according to Richard Branson in his article for CNN, named "War on drugs a Trillion-dollar Failure" (par. 4). He states that it costs on average $30,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate (par. 14). That combined with the "Addiction and Substance Abuse" report of the yearly average of 500,000 people imprisoned, makes roughly $7.5 billion of taxpayer money that is spent on the incarceration of drug users. These numbers are terrifying when compared to the treatment that would only cost an estimated $10,000 per individual, a total of $3.75 billion per year, as explained by Mike Baselici, reporter for The Ledger, a newspaper in Lakeland, Florida, in his article "Treatment a Better Option for Addiction than Incarceration" (par. 3). The difference in money saving could be used to fund education, health programs, etc. It is as if America would rather spend more money punishing people and turning them into criminals than help addicts overcome their ailments. The "war on drugs" should be considered a false hope due to the exorbitant amount of money spent with no reduction in the amount of users; it has only led to the rise of the population in prisons, pushing them to near capacity. Many of the supporters of treatment believe that drug offenders are punished too harshly. President Jimmy Carter once told Congress "penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use itself" as stated by the article "Addiction" (par.16). The sentencing of these offenders doesn't really make sense when cases are compared to one another. Gupta represented Joe Moore in 2003 for cocaine sales that totaled under five grams, and was sentenced to 90 years, as well as Jason Jerome Williams who was sentenced to 45 years for cocaine sales that amounted to a half ounce (par. 1). Both of these men were first time offenders. Mark Wagner is a violent addict and alcoholic who was sentenced to 18 years for attempted murder and aggravated assault as told in Paul Martino's, reporter for the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, article "Wife beaters, drug convicts need help" (par. 8, 12). Wagner pleaded in court for a lesser sentence by admitting to his substance problem, Judge Debra