By Zachary Goelman
The opinions expressed are his own.
The vast U.S. criminal justice system is under renewed scrutiny, spurred by two things: the fortieth anniversary of President Nixon’s speech declaring war on drugs, and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that California must reduce its overcrowded prisons because conditions in jail constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Much of the debate focuses on how the former produced the latter. The two were neatly tied together by Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and a former Baltimore police officer. Franklin told CNN:
Despite arresting over 40 million people on drug charges since the start of the war on drugs — resulting in huge costs both in terms of dollars and in human lives — drugs today are more available, more potent and cheaper than ever.
Franklin’s words echo a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy which stated that the forty-year war on drugs has been an unequivocal failure. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter endorsed this view in a New York Times op-ed piece on the anniversary of Nixon’s drug war declaration.
Bob Houston, state corrections director, remains confident his department can reach a goal of reducing the state’s prison population by 545 inmates, or about 12 percent, over the next two years.
In Canada, for example, violent crime declined in the 1990s almost as much as it did in the United States. Yet, Canada’s prison population dropped during this time, and its per capita incarceration rate is about one-seventh that of the United States.