Criminal Justice Research
During the late 1980’s the United States Government declared a “War on Drugs,” which imposed strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. These mandatory sentences were initially imposed for the purposes of thwarting drug traffickers and deterring drug use across America. Since the inception of mandatory drug minimums in 1987 and 1988, incarceration rates for drug offenders have sky rocketed, from 39 percent of the overall prison population in 1988 to 58 percent in 1992 (Tonry, 81-82). The surging prison population means more money is being spent to keep so many people incarcerated. With the great deal of money being spent and the growing number of drug incarcerations, it has been hypothesized that mandatory minimum drug sentences cannot be deemed a success because they cost the government too much money and are not responsible for the decline in drug use across America. This literature review will specifically look at five research articles in an attempt to affirm this hypothesis.
The first article that will be discussed was written by Michael Tonry (1995) and examined the patterns of drug use amongst youths both before and after the War on Drugs. It was hypothesized that the War on Drugs was an unnecessary action taken by the Government, which was too harsh on American youth; namely African Americans. To show the trends in drug use amongst youths, samples from three different age groups were used: 12-17, 18-25, and 26 and older. The variables measured were alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and cigarettes; the data came in the form of self-reported drug use surveys within the last 30 days. Data was taken from 1975 up until 1991. The data for drug use amongst college students reported using drugs within the past 30 days (as well as across every other age group) shows a steady decrease in reported drug use for all of the illicit drugs previously mentioned. The data shows that in the matter of high school seniors, drug use peaked in 1979, but began to decline from that point onward. To illustrate this, 38% of seniors reported using marijuana in 1979, while in 1985 the number lowered to 27% (Tonry, 1995). This pattern continued for all drugs until the last year the data was available in 1991. If one were to look at the data solely from the commencement of the War on Drugs (1987-88) then one would misleadingly believe that the decrease in reported drug use was due to the War on Drugs, when in fact there had been declining reported use throughout the decade. This implies that there was a social motivation responsible for the decline in drug use and not in fact the War on Drugs, thus supporting the hypothesis. One flaw with this research was that the sample was compiled of merely 10,000 interviews. The small number of respondents used to cover all ages is too small to act as a sample for all of America.
Moving onward is an article written by Lloyd D. Johnston, Ph.D, Patrick M. O'Malley, Ph.D. Jerald G. Bachman, Ph.D, and John E. Schulenberg, Ph.D. The focus of this review is to examine the social forces that cause drug use to fluctuate amongst different age groups. The review proposes a hypothesis that peer perception of using illicit drugs is a contributing factor. To illustrate this, Bachman et al. (2006) use a histogram of peer attitudes of friends using drugs. The study started in 1975 and lasted until 2006. The study found that as peer disapproval climbed and declined, so did reported drug use. For example, the disapproval rate for friends using marijuana among high school students went from 73.1% in 1992 to 53% in 1997. On a parallel, the reported marijuana use amongst the same age group went from 32.6% to 49.2%. Although this may seem like it could be related to more strict drug control laws, it is essential to understand that trends for using tobacco and caffeine both followed the growth and recession traits of illicit drugs.