The Economist: Drug and Prison Reform Will Save The U.S. Money

Reviewing Ernest Drucker's book A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America, The Economist explains how New York City's disastrous Rockefeller laws created a ripple effect of mass incarceration across the country, sending drug arrests soaring alongside increased drug use.  The Economistcalls the laws "a public-policy failure," and more than review Drucker's book, uses it as evidence for a call for prison and drug policy reform. 

While explaining how Drucker, an epidemiologist, chronicles America's suffering form a "plague of prisons," The Economistexplained how the 1973 Rockefeller laws, which required judges to impose harsh fifteen-year to life sentences on certain drug charges, sent drug incarceration rates in new York soaring.

The article said:

Heroin use rose in New York during the 1960s. New York politicians wanting to convince their constituents that they were tough on crime, sent users and sellers to prison for a long time.

The pattern was repeated around the country. As a result, America’s prison population, like New York’s, rose fivefold from 1980 to 2009. The impact has been particularly strong in poor and minority communities: one in 11 black adults are under correctional supervision, compared with one in 45 whites. And 25% of children in much of Harlem and the South Bronx have had one of their parents imprisoned.

This does not indicate a violent-crime problem: in the South Bronx, only 3% of convictions are for felonies. The most common arrests are for loitering, vagrancy or drug use or possession. Collectively, these low-level, “quality of life” crimes account for nearly half of all arrests.

After quoting Drucker on jails being "The seeds of incarceration," and an "infection" that leads to more criminal activity, the article concludes:

"None of Mr Drucker’s statistics or stories is new, but they bear repeating because they are unjust, unintended and easily remedied. Treating drug addiction as a public-health problem (emphasising treatment and harm-reduction) rather than a crime to be punished would go a long way towards making America’s poor and minority communities stabler and better. It would also save taxpayers money. All that is lacking is political will."

Read it in full here. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at September 1, 2011, 9:29am

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