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 Is incarceration of drug offenders an effective use of prison space? Has the "war on...

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lawman425 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:21 AM via web

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 Is incarceration of drug offenders an effective use of prison space? Has the "war on drugs" made any headway?

What problems do you see in the current policy on drug offenders? What alternatives would you suggest, and why?

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:32 AM (Answer #2)

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I would argue that no, incarceration of non-violent drug offenders is both an ineffective and inefficient use of prison space.  More than half of all state and county prisoners in the US (more than 1 million inmates) are in prison on non-violent drug charges.  This is extremely expensive, considering the fact that it has had little effect on the street price of drugs, which has actually gone down, or on the amount of illegal drugs consumed in the US, which has stayed about the same.

Drug traffickers and cartels in Latin America have easily countered our tough laws on drugs in the US by simply producing and smuggling greater quantities of drugs (so individual seizures matter less) and insulating the top bosses from prosecution by using expendable dealers.

We recently finally passed a law which revised the mandatory sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine possession which had been 5 grams = 5 years in prison.  Treatment alternatives are less expensive than prison, and in the long run, more effective.  Legalization of some narcotics (as morphine, dilaudid and other narcotics are already legal) would cut down on criminal trafficking and the violence that is usually associated with it.  The cost to the taxpayer for law enforcement and incarceration would be greatly reduced, which it could be a taxed substance like liquor and cigarettes.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:35 AM (Answer #3)

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This is, of course, a matter of opinion, not one of fact.  I would argue that it is not an effective use of prison space and that the war on drugs has not made any headway.

To me, the use of drugs is a crime that really hurts the offender more than it hurts anyone else.  A person who possesses a small amount of drugs (rather than a dealer) is really not harming others enough to warrant incarceration.

As for the war on drugs, I think that the only way to really attack drugs is to attack the demand for them.  I think that people need to be helped to beat their addictions -- this is the only way to make it so they will not keep wanting drugs.  As long as there is demand, there will be supply.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 14, 2010 at 3:54 PM (Answer #4)

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You are going to get a number of different answers to your question based on people's subjective opinions, so here is mine! I have grave questions about the ability of the current prison system to effectively deal with the massive social problem of drugs. I am not too sure of the American context, but in Britain (unofficially) it is easier to get drugs inside of prison than it is to get them outside. Placing a huge number of criminals together does not effectively take steps in the right direction to their rehabilitation - instead it merely gives them contacts and skills to ensure their repeated offending when they leave. Other ways and methods of combating the drugs problem need to be explored.

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted September 15, 2010 at 6:14 AM (Answer #5)

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The primary problem I have seen is that incarceration of drug offenders appears to be limited largely to the small-time dealers while the kingpins remain free to recruit replacements for those who are busted. The severity of prison sentences for even the lowest level offenders seems to me to have also increased overcrowding of prisons to a significant degree. Prison time is obviously not a deterrent to getting involved in the drug trade, nevertheless.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 16, 2010 at 4:27 PM (Answer #6)

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As I understand it, we spend more each year on prisons than we spend on schools--more to incarcerate than to educate. Locking up nonviolent drug users has done nothing to reduce the demand for drugs, nor has it proved to be an effective way to treat addiction.

It has, however, contributed to the spiraling costs of maintaining prisons, money that could be invested in education and in providing the kinds of opportunities that would give kids a shot at having a future. If we invested more resources in our children now, maybe we wouldn't have to lock up so many of them later.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 17, 2010 at 11:48 AM (Answer #7)

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All of the previous posts make excellent points. I certainly believe that non-violent, small-time drug offenders have no business mixing with the murderers and rapists that inhabit most prisons. In many cases, a drug offender is more likely to be incarerated than a person who has committed violence against another. And, as another post mentioned, the drug offender is primarily only harming himself with his actions.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:58 PM (Answer #8)

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Prisons are a place of punishment and confinement, not places of rehabilitation.  That means those who are in prison for using/possessing drugs will be no better off upon leaving and are likely to return to their previous lifestyles upon their release.  Those who are incarcerated for dealing drugs now have a consistent, steady, and perhaps desperate clientele with whom to do business.  I agree that those in prison are generally the small-time dealers and those at the top remain in business no matter what is done in or with offenders in the prison system.  The war on drugs rages on, it seems to me. 

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted October 14, 2010 at 5:30 PM (Answer #9)

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While it may not be an effective deterrent to the sale and use of drugs, what other option is there. Someone stated that a drug user is really no danger to anyone but himself, how about the poor family that is hit head on by the drug impaired driver?

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:33 PM (Answer #10)

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Until it is declassified as a drug by the government, then the justice department has no choice than to treat it as such. It has to begin in the legislature and there has to be fair and just punishments for carrying things or selling things that are considered illegal. For the most part, there is nothing else to do.

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