Since the federal government insists on treating American’s drug problem through incarceration rather than treatment, law enforcement agencies all across the nation are having a field day locking people up for drug possession every 25 seconds, a rate that surpasses arrests for all violent crime, according to the latest report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.
That means most days there are around 137,000 people sitting in jail because they were caught in possession of an illegal substance. The report finds that most of these folks, many of whom cannot afford bail, are being forced to reside in county jails while they wait, sometimes months, to appear before a judge to answer to the changes.
“Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use,” said lead study author Tess Borden of Human Rights Watch.
“These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence.”
The report suggests that the majority of a police officer’s daily grind seems to be tracking down people with drug problems and putting them in cages rather than try to rid their respective city streets of murderers, pedophiles and rapists.
“Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime,” the report states. “More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year.”
Sadly, while more than half the nation has legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes—with nine more states expected to join the list come November—cops are still arresting more people for pot (643,121 in 2015) than they do those people involved in violent crime.
One of the cases used to build the report involves a man by the name of Corey Ladd, who is currently serving a 17-year sentence in Louisiana for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana. Ladd, who had two prior convictions for minor drug possession, was given this insane sentence because the state labeled him a “habitual offender”—all for non-violent crimes.
Although Ladd’s case is among once of the harshest found by the ACLU and the HRW, the idea that more than a hundred thousand people a day are sitting in jail for these types of offenses shows a desperate need for the United States to get serious about drug policy reform.
The report, which was released on Wednesday, calls for the decriminalization of all illegal drugs in an effort to shift this issue into the realm of public health instead of continuing to deal with these people as though they are criminals—a system, as Borden points out, that has failed for the past 45 years.
“Criminalization drives drug use underground; it discourages access to emergency medicine, overdose prevention services, and risk-reducing practices such as syringe exchanges,” the report reads.
The concept outlined in the report is similar to what was done in Portugal more than a decade ago.
In 2001, Portuguese legislators decriminalized the possession of all illegal drugs, eliminating the potential for non-violent drug offenders to be put behind bars for their indiscretions. The law, which simply gives people the option for treatment—it is never forced—has been wildly successful. There has been no overall increase in drug use, while more users are taking advantage of treatment programs in hopes for a better tomorrow. What’s more, AIDS cases are on the decline and there are fewer overdose deaths.
Portugal continues to punish drug traffickers through the criminal-justice system.
“Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that a number of drug-related problems have decreased,” according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The Obama Administration said recently “we cannot arrest our way out of a drug problem,” but nothing much has been done to put an end to this lunacy. Even with some state’s experimenting with alternative programs as a means for combating the drug epidemic, it is essential for concrete changes to be made at the national level before we can ever truly begin to get a leash on this issue. Until then, American’s cops, judges and jails will be left to handle it.
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