The war on drugs was initiated throughout America by federal, state and local agencies between 1984 and 1989. In comparison to the rest of the countries, some states were not hosts of the battlegrounds in this war. States in the East Coast of America such as New Jersey and New York have often been affected by the operations of Mexican drug cartels. Apart from being used as intermediaries by producers from Colombia, they have become bases for dangerous organized crime syndicates who control the trade of illicit drugs in America.
Reports from FBI indicate that Mexican cartels focus on wholesale distribution while street gangs control the retail sales. Both prison and street gangs collaborate with Mexican drug cartels to establish distribution networks which engage severally in vicious battles. Gang violence has been reported to be a thorny issue within the prison system because gang members tend to retain their memberships and identity when inside the prison (Benson & Rasmussen, 1996).
Segregation of groups of gang members from the rest of the prisoners imply that gang members are imprisoned together with their friends turning prisons into “institutions of higher criminal learning”. Studies have revealed that there is a correlation between the issue of prison overcrowding and war on drugs. Overcrowding mainly originates from lack of enough rehabilitation programs for drug offenders and the direct effects of racial war on drugs.
Analysts say that prison overcrowding in relation to drug abuse is a significant issue to the whole society since it is racially biased. Minority populations are targeted when it comes to war on drugs especially those residing in concentrated inner city regions. Studies concerning prison overcrowding indicate that a series of events have contributed to the recent problem. The new penology and the application of the war on drugs usually incapacitate instead of rehabilitating prisoners, and both have contributed to prison overcrowding (Walters, 2002).
The increased rate of drug arrest between 1984 and 1989 in America was followed by increased retrenchment across the country. In 1990, drug arrests per 100,000 people decreased by 16. 5% and by a further 8. 5% in 1991 from 538 to 411 per 100,000. Statistics indicate that drug arrest remained high compared to the pre-drug war period. In 1989, New Jersey was ranked 2nd with 895 drug arrests per 100,000 people. Many people who engage in property and violent crime also abuse drugs, with the 1988 survey indicating that 72. % of men arrested in 20 cities in America portrayed a positive test in urinalysis for using illegal drugs (New Jersey Commission to review Criminal Sentencing, 990).
In addition, a survey by the Bureau of Justice on 12,000 inmates show that more than 75% had taken had drugs, 56% had taken illicit drugs a month before imprisonment and a third were under drug influence when committing crimes (Wexler, Galkin, and Lipton 1989). Drugs are a major influence of non-drug crime thus the greater emphasis on curbing illegal drugs as a way of general prevention of crime.
In 2008, close to 1,000 drug related incidents such as seizures of heroin, marijuana and other drugs were reported in New Jersey prisons while 44 prisoners died o drug overdose between 2006 and 2008. One solution of making the war on drugs effective and decongesting the prisons is to base the drug policy on science rather than ideology. Scientist, activist and physicians endorsed the Vienna Declaration which sort to end the war on drugs which is championed by America. According to them, when drug users are criminalized, the HIV epidemic is fueled and a major crisis is created within the criminal Justice system.
In support of this program, the White House declared that it was increasing it efforts of curbing HIV infection among drug users by scrapping the ban on aiding clean syringe programs. The government should come up with a strategy that would differentiate drug users from people who engage in crime. Studies have shown that correctional facilities are filled with first time offenders who were accusing of taking illegal substances without necessary engaging in any other form of crime.
When drug users are differentiated from criminals, the justice system will take a major step in addressing the issue of substance abuse and reducing overcrowding in prisons. Secondly, there has been a wide perception that drug addicts engage in criminal activities to finance their addiction. However, studies show that there are large numbers of people who use heroin regularly but they are not addicts and a large number of drinkers who are not alcoholics.
The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse shows that users of cocaine don’t take the drug regularly. Among people between 18 and 25 years, one in every four “lifetime” user (people who have ever taken the drug) says they used it in the previous month (Benson & Rasmussen, 1996). Among those above the age of 25, only one in eleven “lifetime” users report to have used cocaine in the previous month. This indicates that frequency declines with age and users of cocaine are not addicts.
State agencies should develop programs that will teach the public on the dangers of using illicit substances and they should pay particular attention to the youth in schools and colleges. Lastly, substance abusers should be sentenced to community service instead of prison terms. Studies indicate that instead of deterring crime, prison sentences actually harden drug offenders. Moreover, the best facilities for drug addicts is rehabilitation centers and not incarceration facilities since the former enables a person to reflect on his life and start a positive new lifestyle.
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