The war on drugs is something we have all grown up hearing over and over. It was implemented in June 1971 by President Nixon. This included dramatically increasing the size and presence of federal drug control agencies and pushing through measures such as mandatory sentencing.
The presidency of Ronald Reagan marked the beginning of a long period of ever increasing incarceration rates due to the expansion of the drug war. The number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 by 1997.
Increased incarceration wasn’t the only effect the war on drugs had. The harsh drug policies blocked expansion of syringe access programs and other harm reduction policies aimed to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.
More recently, President Obama has yet to shift drug control funding to a health-based approach. However, he is advocating for reforms such as reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, ending the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs and supporting state medical marijuana laws.
A shift away from the war on drugs approach will take time, but it is slowly starting to take place.
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require prison terms of a particular length for people convicted of certain federal and state crimes. They are inflexible and prevent judges from using their discretion.
Judges understand that every case is different and have an understanding of each case that is brought to them. They should be able to determine appropriate sentences based on the facts of the crime.
Mandatory sentencing leads to negative effects such as overcrowding, costs to taxpayers and diversion of funds from law enforcement. A shift in the way we treat drug offenses needs to take place in our country. Rehabilitative approaches such as substance abuse treatment, drug court supervision, probation and community correctional programs are all options based on the individual’s particular situation.
The war on drugs has proven to be ineffective and outdated. It is time for us to take a rehabilitative and health based approach rather than excessively punitive measures that have no proof of truly addressing the problem.