U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions now wants federal prosecutors to seek the maximum punishment in all drug-related crimes. His goal, according to an op-ed he published last week in the Washington Post, is to “make American safe again” by putting more of the nation’s drug fiends behind bars.
However, his idea is flawed, as a new study finds that incarcerating people for drugs does nothing to actually stop them from using.
Researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts found “no statistically significant relationship between states’ drug offender imprisonment rates and three measures of drug problems: rates of illicit use, overdose deaths and arrests.”
The main takeaway from the report is that Trump’s Justice Department will not be able to put a leash on the national drug problem by ramping up law enforcement and imposing tougher penalties.
“There seems to be this assumption that tougher penalties will send a stronger message and deter people from involvement with drugs. This is not borne out by the data,” Adam Gelb, director at Pew, told NBC News.
Interestingly, the latest findings fall right in line with the organization’s 2015 study, which demonstrated how decades old federal sentencing policies have only been good for one thing—filling up prisons.
Last week, Pew fired off a letter to President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, a group being led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which attempts to point out that while state and federal prisons are now home to millions of drug offenders, the country’s drug problem is stronger than ever.
Tougher criminal justice policies have not, at all, diminished rates of drug addiction, nor have they contributed to any decline whatsoever in deadly overdoses, the report shows. Instead, these antiquated policies have spawned an 800 percent increase in federal incarcerations since 1980.
The United States currently has somewhere around 2.4 million drug offenders behind bars.
Although sober society may not bat an eye at the concept of locking up people for drug crimes, the latest data shows that very few dangerous people are actually being removed from the streets under these policies.
In fact, statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show the majority of drug arrests in the United States (88 percent) are for marijuana possession. This means only a small percentage of drug offenders are involved in dangerous substances.
Pew researchers believe the Trump administration should consider their findings before taking additional steps to renew the drug war.
“This is fresh data that should inform the important conversation happening in Washington and around the country about what the most effective strategies are for combating the rise in opioid addiction and other substance abuse,” said Gelb.