War on Drugs and its Contribution to Mass Incarceration

War on Drugs and its Contribution to Mass Incarceration. The war on drugs in the US represented a policy change in which the country focused on stringent approaches in dealing with drugs and drug related offences. The policy instituted during the Reagan administration imposed mandatory sentencing of non-violent offenders found with particular amounts of drugs. The adoption of the policy by Reagan’s presidency did not have much to do with dealing with the social problems that emanated in America but was rather a way of appealing to white American voters. On the other hand, it represented the country’s inclination towards using law enforcement in dealing with a public health issue. Importantly, the adoption of the war on drugs policy was uncalled for and this would be evident in the decades that followed as the US continues to feel the effect of a racially fuelled and discriminatory policy.

            In facilitating the war on drugs, billions of US dollars have been spent yet the country continues to face an ever increasing threat of drug use with the recent opioid crisis. The war on drugs has not only been an ineffective approach in dealing with the drug menace in the US but also contributed to the progression of racial injustices in the US. Ever since the adoption of the policy, more and more people of color have been subjected to the incarceration system in what has created a rapid growth of individuals in the carceral system. In the over two decades that the US adopted the war on drugs policy, it has imprisoned more of its citizens than any other industrialized nation while also disproportionately affecting minority populations. The US war on drugs policy has resulted in social problems in the US due to wastage of American taxpayer resources, the creation of the prison industrial complex, and the inability to deal with the drug problem in the country, while also violating constitutional rights of inmates.

War on Drugs and its Contribution to Mass Incarceration

Correction system and mass incarceration

Ever since the adoption of the war on drugs policy under Ronald Reagan, there has been a substantial increase in the population numbers of prisoners thus leading to overcrowding and the need for more and better facilities to handle the increasing number. As the number of jailed inmates increased in the United States since the 80s, it reached 2.3 million persons in 2008 implying an incarceration rate of 760 inmates per 100,000 residents (Travis et al., 2014). The rapid increase in the number of inmates put a strain on existing prison resources in what led to overcrowding all over the United States. In dealing with this, there has been the adoption of different policies linked with the privatization of the prison system in the US. The inclination towards privatization is linked to the fact that the private sector proposes the construction and operation of prisons at a much faster and cheaper rate as compared to the government. In line with this, the corrections system has adopted policy changes that have allowed private entities to construct and also operate prison facilities on behalf of the national government. Such has come about from the government’s inability to continue providing the essential services needed for the operation of prisons as a result of overcrowding.

As much as the policy response by the corrections and probations systems   has inclined towards privatization, this has not limited the growth of public expenditure linked to the support of the carceral system. According to Hammond (2017), activities linked to drug enforcement in the US have cost 20 billion dollars annually in local and state law enforcement. The figure is in stark contrast to the amount of money spent of the research, treatment, and prevention aspects of drugs which stands at 5.5 billion dollars annually. Further, the figure is 50 percent larger than the federal welfare budget. In light of this, more and more resources are being directed towards the drug policies that are ineffective since society continues to face the debilitating effects of drug use. With much of the annual budget going towards law enforcement and the sustenance of the corrections system, little resources are being directed towards prevention approaches and this evidences ineffective drug related policies that continue to strain American taxpayers.

Mass incarceration and the increasing number of inmates in prisons is also a result of recidivism and this shows a failure by the corrections system in meeting their goals. The average rate of recidivism in the US is over 40 percent and this implies that there is a high likelihood of inmates being repeat offenders. The high rates of recidivism depict the inability of the corrections system to meet the goals of rehabilitation as well as the successful re-integration of the individual back to the community. While the prisons system is meant to rehabilitate and develop skills for the reintegration of individuals in society, it focuses on the industrial complex thus leading to recidivism. As noted by Thomas (2012), individuals return to crimes due to the lack of skills, education or both. Such indicates that the policy on rehabilitation by the corrections system is not effective in reducing recidivism thus resulting in continued mass incarceration.  

Constitutional issues

Mass incarceration and the resultant punishment of individuals in the system is seen as a violation of the eighth amendment. Under the eighth amendment, the United States federal government is prohibited from the imposition of excessive fines, bails, and subjection of individuals to cruel and unusual punishment. From a critical analysis of the issues around mass incarceration and the corrections system, there is evidence of the fact that the system blatantly violates the eighth amendment. As highlighted previously, the rise in prison populations has led to the privatization of prisons in the US where contracts between private entities and the government require that the government should maintain inmates population in these facilities. In response to this, the mandatory sentencing as well as the three strikes policy has been imposed as severe punishment meant to ensure that inmates spend their lives in the corrections system as a way of maintaining the prison industrial complex (Kreager and Kruttschnitt, 2018). Under the prison industrial complex where private contractors focus on using inmate labor for profitability, there is a lack of regard for the security and safety of prisoners and this results in cruel and unusual punishment for the inmates. Further, the drive for profitability negates the need to focus on the rehabilitative goals of the correction facilities thus evidencing a failure of the prison system in meeting its mandate. From this perspective, mass incarceration violates the eight amendment of the constitution.

Another constitutional issue emerging is the violation of the fourth amendment through the use of satellite based monitoring. Satellite based monitoring is a law enforcement approach used in the monitoring of offenders such as those linked to sexual offending upon release from prison, where this allows the law enforcement to closely monitor the individuals. The use of the GPS tracking devices to identify an individual’s location has been seen as a violation of the fourth amendment that protects individuals from unreasonable searches.  The use of satellite based monitoring is linked to mass incarceration since the devices have been used to get offenders back to the corrections system. The use of the devices is aligned to the continuation of mass incarceration through the violation of the fourth amendment right. As noted previously, the prison industrial complex is reliant on the influx of inmates in the system and hence the need to ensure a consistent supply of inmates through laws and policies violating their rights.

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