How We Lost The War On Drugs 

How We Lost The War On Drugs 
Posted by FoM on September 05, 1999 at 12:27:32 PT
By Matthew B. Stannard 
Source: News Choice
Ten years ago today, then-President George Bush hoisted a bag of crack cocaine for the cameras and proclaimed that "the gravest domestic threat facing our nation today is drugs." 
Expanding upon his prede cessors' tough policies, Bush launched the most ambitious and expensive battle ever against narcotics and drug ped dlers, setting nine goals for the nation to meet within a decade. With opinion polls showing overwhelming public support, Bush and Congress endowed law enforcement with awesome powers for waging an all-out war against drugs -- unprece dented legislative and legal au thority, a new government agency with more than 100 drug-battling agents, and a budget $3 billion larger than any before proposed. But despite all the fanfare and huge investment in the ar tillery against drugs, the war failed. Ten years and more than $100 billion later, only two of Bush's goals have been met. More youths are doing dope today, and more people are ending up in medical emergency rooms with overdoses and drugrelated problems. Meanwhile, the amount of drugs used na tionwide has remained virtually the same. The tough law enforcement policies have succeeded mainly in packing the nation's prisons with drug users and drug law breakers, leaving the United States with more people in prison than any other country, and swelling the prison popula tion to 1.8 million, larger than all but three of the nation's cities. Only one in 10 of those prisoners receives drug treat ment; many are released with the same drug problems and soon return to a life of crime. Faced with that evidence, law enforcement officials and drug war hawks like former Attorney General Edwin Meese are begin ning to meet therapists and drug war doves like the Hoover Institution's Joseph McNamara halfway. What is emerging is a new approach that combines the strengths of criminal justice with substance abuse treatment. "I hate to sound like a bleeding-heart liberal, but you need to attack it from two dif ferent ways. Enforcement alone does not work," said one vet eran Oakland narcotics officer. "Just tossing people in prison is not the answer." Drug use continues unabated Putting people in prison has not ended the illegal use of drugs. Since 1971, the annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse has asked thousands of Americans whether they used il legal drugs in the past 12 months. The percentage an swering "Yes" has not changed significantly since before Bush's 1989 speech from the White House Oval Office. Cocaine -- the scourge of the 1980's, by popular belief, though it actually has fallen out of favor since President Ronald Reagan's administration -- continued its decline after Bush's speech. But old favorites like heroin and marijuana have held strong, and increasing numbers of users have taken up newly popular drugs like today's stronger methamphetamine. Young people, in particular, have been turning on to drugs in numbers that only this year began to decline. Bush's 10-year plan called for the number of adolescent Americans using drugs to be cut in half within a decade. Instead it increased by more than 20 percent, as young people grew more tolerant of drug use, continued to smoke marijuana and discovered more potent forms of heroin. Where the war did have an im pact was on the nation's prison population. Police, prosecutors, politicians and the public got fed up with criminals in the 1980s -- and especially with drug offenders. So they put them in prison, in larger num bers and for longer sentences than ever before. "If you take California, the sta tistics are kind of stunning," said Franklin Zimring, director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. "There were more people in 1991 in California prisons for drug offenses than were in Cali fornia prisons for all offenses in 1980MDUL. Not only did the number of drug offenders go up fifteen-fold, but that one unit of the California prison population was larger than the whole prison population had been a decade before," he said. "You can't find too many historical episodes like that in American history."MDUL The same thing happened na tionwide. More people are now arrested for breaking drug laws than for driving under the influ ence, theft, simple assault or any other crime. Statistics show that once in the system, drug offenders are more likely to be convicted and receive longer sentences than any other nonvi olent offenders in both state and federal courts. Prison becomes a growth in dustry Between 1985 and 1998, under a deluge of drug criminals, the na tion's prison population ex panded from 744,206 to 1.8 million. When the prisons were filled, the taxpayers built more. In 1980 the total nationwide oper ating budget for state and fed eral prisons and jails was $7 billionMDUL. By 1998, it was $39 billion. California spends more on prisons than any other state -- about $4.6 billion per year. Locking up 1.8 million drug vio lators and other criminals has at least one clear benefit, some ex perts say. The nation's crime rate has plummeted since Bush's speech: by one major measure, the National Crime Victimization Survey, crime hasn't been this low since 1973. "The criminal justice system can take primary credit for this," said Morgan Reynolds, director of the criminal justice center at the private National Center for Policy Analysis and a longtime supporter of incarceration as a tool against crime. "That's gotten a lot more re spect lately," he said. "More po lice, new police tactics including community policing, tougher laws, and of course the fact that we have more offenders out of commission behind bars." But others worry about what happens to those offenders once they are behind bars -- or, more accurately, what doesn't happen: treatment for their drug problems. Steven Belenko, a researcher with the National Center on Ad diction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York City, reports that a ma jority of both state and federal prisoners had links to illicit drug use. About 19 percent of state pris oners and 55 percent of federal prisoners had been convicted of a drug law offense, he said. Sev enteen percent of state pris oners and 10 percent of all federal prisoners had committed a crime to get money to buy drugs. Thirty percent of state in mates and 16 percent of federal inmates were under the influ ence of drugs or drugs com bined with alcohol when they committed their crime. And 64 percent of state inmates and 43 percent of federal inmates had used drugs regularly -- most of them in the month prior to their arrest. "If you measure that against the amount of substance abuse treatment and prevention activi ties that take place in prison, it's quite a dramatic figure, because only about 10 to 15 percent of inmates are getting any kind of substance abuse treatment when they're in custody," he said. "So there's a huge gap." And it's getting wider. According to the U.S. Depart ment of Justice, more state pris oners admitted using drugs before their arrest in 1991 than 1997, but fewer got to partici pate in prison drug treatment programs each year. By 1997, more than eight out of 10 state prisoners said they had used drugs, but only one in 10 received prison drug treatment. And slightly more than half of those received treatment in a residential facility, the kind of treatment experts say stands the best chance of preventing a return to drug abuse and crime. Saving taxpayers' money Residential treatment is expen sive -- about $6,500 per inmate per year, Belenko estimated, in cluding vocational training and follow-up care. But each inmate who stays clean for a year after release saves taxpayers $68,800 through wages, savings in health care and prison costs, and reduced crime, he said. "With these huge numbers of inmates now who are getting released, if they're released un treated, it's likely -- given past research -- that without inter vention a large portion of them will return to using drugs and committing crimes related to those drug problems," he said. Belenko's report is getting at tention. California is one of sev eral states experimenting with increased drug treatment in the correctional system and ex panded after-care for ex-felons. And Belenko's ideas are echoed by longtime drug war hawks like Reynolds and Meese, and in proposals from Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. "It is clear that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem of chronic drug abuse and drugdriven crime," McCaffrey said in a recent speech. "We cannot continue to apply policies and programs that do not deal with the root causes of substance abuse and attendant crime." Interdiction vs. treatment Some treatment advocates and drug war critics say the new drug warriors are not putting their money where their mouth is -- yet. On July 22, 1999, for example, McCaffrey announced his sup port for new regulations im proving the quality and accessibility of methadone treatment for heroin addicts. But a day later, he called for a $1 billion expansion of the United States' longstanding mil itary interdiction efforts in the jungles of Colombia. McCaffrey has been speaking in favor of a less punitive drug war "practically since he came in three years ago, and there has been almost no change in the budget," said attorney Eric Stirling, president of the Crim inal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington. "Where is the evi dence he's put any effort into fighting for more treatment?" The Clinton administration's drug enforcement budget re quest for next year is $17.8 bil lion. About 66 percent of that budget is earmarked for control ling the supply of illicit drugs through domestic and interna tional law enforcement. The rest -- about 34 percent -- is di vided between treatment, pre vention, and research. Many critics of the nation's drug policy believe those percentages should be reversed. "I think we'll be living in a better country if we have a lot of drug treatment in prison," Zimring said. "(But) we're too busy expanding penal facilities to provide any content other than incarceration in them." Other policymakers and ob servers say the changes may be out of Clinton and McCaffrey's hands, because there is little po litical will in Congress to change the drug budget's ratio of law enforcement to treatment. "I don't get punished (politically) if I vote against money for treat ment. But I do get punished if I vote against more money for the law enforcement aspects," said Dr. Herbert Kleber, deputy for demand reduction in the Na tional Drug Policy Office from 1989 until 1991. "Most con gressmen want to get reelected. Why are they going to vote against their own self inter ests?" Changing the goals Ten years from now, the suc cess or failure of the new war on drugs will be measured in terms similar to the old one's. Although the National Strategy for Drug Control has been re written each year since Bush first announced it in 1989, each has included a set of short-term and long-term goals. Clinton's most recent strategy includes a total of 97 goals, with 12 key objectives, compared with the Bush administration's original nine. Some of those ob jectives -- reducing the avail ability of illicit drugs by 50 percent, halving drug use by youth, cutting overall drug use by 50 percent -- are identical to goals in Bush's plan. The deadline to meet them is 2007. "Every one of the indications that they themselves had set years ago are not working ... then McCaffrey has the chutzpah to say 'You can't judge us now, you have to wait 10 years," said Joseph McNa mara, former San Jose police chief and now a sharp critic of anti-drug policy at the Hoover Institution at Stanford Univer sity. "They just keep changing the goals. Every time they fail, they just gloss over that."Sunday September 05, 1999 1999 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
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Comment #1 posted by J Christen-Mitchell on September 06, 1999 at 02:05:58 PT
War on Drugs Government?Clinton Profiteering
The most absured possible theory seems to hold water. That the government is profiting directly from cocaine sales and trying to destroy inner city blacks. Look at CIA/Contra connections and old Bubbas' Mena Arkansaw operation. After Cointelpro could we espect anything less monstrous? 
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