Examine if Prohibition solved the social problems of the 1920's.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that a fairly effective argument can be made that Prohibition did not solve the social problems of the 1920s.  One reason for this was that the reality caused by the passage of the Volstead Act overwhelmed the authorities.  Over half a million arrests based on the enforcement of Prohibition had been made.  The criminal justice system was unable to handle the volume of this capacity.  At the same time, the amount of plea bargains that had to be adopted in order to deal with the clog of offenders made the charges carry little in terms of weight.  Prison overflow and court clog created situations that delegitimized the enforcement authorities, making folk heroes out of those who broke the law.

It is in there where I think that great social problems emerged out of Prohibition.  The flouting of the law, primarily because it was ineffective, helped to create a culture where "being bad was good" and "being good was bad."  Such a mentality fostered the rise of organized crime and the panache associated with it.  At the same time, the rise in "bootlegging" or the illegal sale of liquor only happened because of Prohibition.  The rise of the "Roaring '20s" was enhanced by the bootlegger and the distribution and consumption of illegal alcohol.  The Temperance Movement's desire to increase social purity by banning alcohol actually had the opposite effect in making alcohol "forbidden," creating an aura of desire around it that attracted many elements of the 1920s social scene.  In this social reality, I think that Prohibition created more of the social problems it was specifically designed to eliminate.

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