According to ThinkProgress:
Drug offenses remained the single most common cause of arrest in 2012, mostly for offenses involving mere possession, according to newly released FBI estimates. Of the 12.2 million estimated arrests 1.55 million were for “drug abuse violations.” Some 82 percent of those were for possession offenses, and 42.4 percent for marijuana possession. That is the equivalent of a drug arrest every 20 seconds, and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, according to calculations by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials who support the regulated legalization of drugs.
The Future of Mass Incarceration: Punishment in the Proposed Era of Decarceration
by Chez Rumpf, PhD Candidate in Sociology, Loyola University Chicago
Two weeks ago in a speech to the American Bar Association, Attorney General Eric Holder openly critiqued the United States’ “War on Drugs,” admitting it has been a failure and that its unintended consequences have severely harmed individuals, families, and entire communities. Specifically, Holder took issue with mandatory minimum sentencing policies that have contributed greatly to the build-up of the United States’ prison nation. He went so far as to instruct federal prosecutors throughout the United States to no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent federal drug charges.
An End to the “War on Drugs” and Mass Incarceration?
Holder’s comments carry a great deal of symbolic importance. It is undeniably noteworthy for the country’s Attorney General to openly challenge and call for a reversal of U.S. crime policies and to acknowledge publicly that mass incarceration is a grave social injustice, in part because of the severe racial disparities that permeate the criminal legal system. It remains to be seen, however, whether the symbolic importance of Holder’s speech will translate to changes in policy and practice. As Kara Dansky recently noted on the ACLU’s blog, federal prosecutors may resist Holder’s instructions based on their own racist beliefs and adherence to “tough on crime” ideology.
—Number of federal prison inmates: 219,000 (about 14% of the total prison/jail population)
—Number of inmates in federal prisons for drug offenses, 1980: 4,700
—Number of inmates in federal prisons for drug offenses, 2010: 97,500
—Number of federal convictions for drug offenses each year: 25,000
—Number of federal drug convictions each year for lower-level drug offenses such as street dealing or delivering: 11,250
—Percentage of federal inmates convicted of drug offenses who are African-American: 30 percent
—Percentage of federal inmates convicted of drug offenses who are Hispanic: 40 percent
- The single largest driver in the increase in the federal prison population since 1998 is longer sentences for drug offenders.
- The average inmate in minimum-security federal prison costs $21,000 each year. The average inmate in maximum-security federal prisons costs $33,000 each year.
- Federal prison costs are expected to rise to 30 percent of the Department of Justice’s budget by 2020 .
Sources: U.S. Department of Justice, The Sentencing Project, and Wonkblog
A study (PDF) by the Urban Institute examined the growth of the Federal prison population.
The report found that the number of Federal prisoners has quadrupled since 1980 to over 219,000. Over 30% of the expansion is due to longer sentences for people convicted of drug offenses. The chart below illustrates this:
Maya Schenwar did a terrific interview with Dr. Carl Hart about his new book “High Price.” The book is sitting on my summer reading shelf and the summer is almost over…
Anyway, you should read the whole interview but below is a particular interaction that stood out for me:
MS: You’ve mentioned how there aren’t many studies that acknowledge the positive effects of illegal drugs, which is funny because sometimes those effects manifest very similarly to the effects of legal drugs. At one point, you compared methamphetamine and Adderol, for example. This made me think about how in some ways, the scheduling of some drugs as illegal and some drugs as legal comes across as arbitrary.
CH: It’s not arbitrary, but it has little to do with pharmacology. It certainly doesn’t have much to do with potency. Nicotine is one of most potent drugs in the world. The reasons go back to these despised groups – when a drug is associated with them, it often becomes illegal.
This happens through history: Cocaine became associated with black people in the South. The concern with opium was that there were all these Chinese people using it – even though the average user was a 30- to 50-year-old white woman. Marijuana became associated with Mexicans and black people. And meth was restricted when people like bikers and hippies – and young people – were seen to be the ones using that drug.
I’ve already mentioned the excellent new ACLU report on the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws. However it’s worth highlighting again…
White youth use pot at a slightly higher rate than black youth do.
The Economist sees an opportunity to leverage the racism of the enforcement of marijuana laws to change policy.
Unpacking “Chiraq” #2: Repression, RICO, and War on Terror Tactics
by nancy a heitzeg
What does it mean to call a city a War Zone? To write entire Black and Brown neighborhoods – and all their inhabitants – out of the United States of America and into a script that so effectively “others” them that they are now a foreign enemy state? What does it mean for public perception? What does it mean for police state response?
While the term “Chiraq” may have one set of meanings for those who survive Chicago’s high gun violence rate (see Unpacking ‘Chiraq’ #1: Chief Keef, Badges of Honor, and Capitalism), it serves to legitimate, without question, already solidified stereotypes of youth of color. “Chiraq” also links, per usual this violence to gangs. “Chiraq” implies that the already draconian domestic police approach to gangs is insufficient, and that a military response is now needed.
What other message could one take from the recent edition of HBO’s Vice Episode #9 Chiraq ? Where segments of a major US city are described like this — “The South Side of Chicago is basically a failed state within the borders of the U.S.”? Where viewers are blithely taken from Chicago’s Southside to then “hunting oil pirates in Nigeria”?
The lethal combination of gangs and guns has turned Chicago into a war zone. To see why the Windy City, now dubbed “Chiraq,” had the country’s highest homicide rate in 2012, VICE visits Chicago’s most dangerous areas, where handguns are plentiful and the police and community leaders are fighting a losing battle against gang violence. In the neighborhood of Englewood, we patrol with police, visit with religious leaders, and hang out with members of gangs – soldiers in a turf war that has spread into new communities as projects are destroyed and residents are forced to move elsewhere.
I came of age in New York City during the height of the crack cocaine era. I don’t think that young people living in the city today can fully comprehend what this was like. One thing to say is that the media was guilty of reporting countless sensational stories about crime and violence during that time. Many of these stories included a myriad references to “crack babies.” Turns out that there was no actual epidemic of “crack babies.” It served as another excuse to wage war on black women and our bodies in particular…
The New York Times reported recently on the “epidemic that was not:”
This week’s Retro Report video on “crack babies” (infants born to addicted mothers) lays out how limited scientific studies in the 1980s led to predictions that a generation of children would be damaged for life. Those predictions turned out to be wrong. This supposed epidemic — one television reporter talks of a 500 percent increase in damaged babies — was kicked off by a study of just 23 infants that the lead researcher now says was blown out of proportion. And the shocking symptoms — like tremors and low birth weight — are not particular to cocaine-exposed babies, pediatric researchers say; they can be seen in many premature newborns.
The worrisome extrapolations made by researchers — including the one who first published disturbing findings about prenatal cocaine use — were only part of the problem. Major newspapers and magazines, including Rolling Stone, Newsweek, The Washington Post and The New York Times, ran articles and columns that went beyond the research. Network TV stars of that era, including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, also bear responsibility for broadcasting uncritical reports.
Included in their report is a very well done video. You can watch it here.
Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.
The Times story includes the following map which illustrates the disparities in marijuana arrests.
Please read the entire interactive ACLU report HERE.