Since former president Ronald Reagan declared a War on Drugs in 1971, the U.S. has waged a decades-long battle against drug use. The Drug Enforcement Administration was established to handle the drug problem, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) was implemented to teach school kids to just say no, and mandatory minimum sentences were imposed for drug offenders.
But today, after years of effort and billions of dollars, many are calling the War on Drugs a failure. Among them is U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.
According to The New York Times, Holder has said that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason. Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable. It imposes a significant economic burden – totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone – and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”
Approximately twenty-five million Americans have been arrested on drug charges since 1980. Though the U.S. has only five percent of the world’s population, our country has twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. This level of incarceration has led to unsustainable spending as well as overcrowding, especially in California.
Holder is expected to outline a new policy that will not only curtail taxpayer spending and overcrowding but will also correct inequity in the justice system. The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected minorities, with African-American men sent to prison on drug charges thirteen times more than Caucasian men.
This policy will order prosecutors to “omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses,” reports The New York Times. Low-level drug cases would need to meet certain criteria, including that the defendant’s crime did not involve violence.
Under the new policy, alternatives to incarceration—such as drug-treatment programs, compassionate release for elderly prisoners, and others—could increase.
Polices like the Justice Department’s have already been implemented in states including Texas and Arkansas, which have reported them successful.