Attorney General Eric Holder’s long overdue realization that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason” was an important step toward a national recognition that our decades long war on drugs has been ineffective, expensive, and cruel. As bipartisan support grows in Congress for overhauling U.S. drug laws, Holder has just ordered Federal prosecutors to remove any reference to quantities of illicit drugs that trigger mandatory minimums and to apply this provision to pending drug cases, where the defendant has not yet been sentenced.
But reducing the length and frequency of drug-related incarceration going forward for new cases, however welcome, doesn’t do anything about the large population of drug users already stuck in our prisons. Many non violent drug offenders are still serving out long terms under the now discredited mandatory sentencing policies. Most of these are young minority men with children, drawn from our poorest urban communities.
To date little has been said about how we can both dispense justice and save money by reducing the size of this key population. As of Jan 1, 2012 there were over 1.8 million drug law offenders under the control of the U.S. criminal justice system; 320,000 behind bars (in State and Federal prisons) and an additional 1.5 million under community supervision on parole and probation programs — where administrative violations, missed appointments, and failed drug tests send hundreds of thousands of drug offenders back to prison. The total annual cost of keeping these millions in our criminal justice system is now over $12 billion per year.
The U.S. is not the only country in the world that has filled its prisons with low-level drug users and dealers — countries as diverse as Brazil, Thailand and Russia have followed the U.S. drug war example — but the scale of the U.S. prison population is unique.
Now that the White House has acknowledged the fundamental wrong-headedness of its own mass incarceration of drug users, what should be done about the failed war’s victims who are still in prison?
One proposal immediately leaps to mind: declare a blanket amnesty or pardon for all drug war prisoners currently serving time in prison or on parole for non-violent drug offenses.
– Read the entire article at The Huffington Post.