- Published: November 14, 2012
I was recently introduced to a Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crowe. This book is about how the prison system in the United States today is serving the same basic function that Jim Crow Laws did in the South prior to the Civil Rights Movement in disenfranchising racial minorities and institutionalizing mass discrimination. The evidence that Alexander cites is the racism that is entrenched in the U.S. legal system. The U.S. incarcerates a higher percentage of its racial minorities than any other country on earth. Once convicted of a felony, a person is relegated to the category of second-class citizen for life. This is particularly apparent in the way that the U.S. legal system implements drug law and policy. Drug laws are extremely biased towards racial minorities and disadvantaged communities in general. Since the so-called “War on Drugs,” the percentage of U.S. citizens has increased vastly.
Given the startling injustice in drug policy and the fact that the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders is financially crippling our prison system, I think that this is an area that should take priority as we try to reform the legal system. Drug offenders are some of the best candidates for rehabilitation. In the case of non-violent drug offenders, rehabilitative measures should be taken rather than punitive ones. That way, the War on Drugs won’t fill our prisons with non-violent criminals, and a drug conviction won’t have as much poser to destroy someone’s life. All of the money that is currently being spent in waging the War on Drugs and locking up its victims could be better spent indentifying the neurological causes of drug addiction and trying to undermine them.
Given the deep-rooted neurological basis of drug addiction, measures such as arresting drug dealers and cutting off drug suppliers is never going to work. As long as there is a demand, there is going to be a supply. It’s like Hercules trying to kill the hydra—cut off its head and two more spring up in its place. This is what the War on Drugs has been trying to do for the past thirty years, and why it has been and continues to be a colossal failure. A smarter approach would be to shift focus on cutting off the supply to trying to curb the demand. It’s a win-win—we can undercut the influence of drug circles, while at the same time rehabilitating drug addicts who are really just the victims in the situation. The War on Drugs would be more successful if it was actually fighting drugs, rather than dealers or addicts, which is why more government funding should be going towards researching the neurological basis of drug addiction and how we can fight it with things such as the cocaine vaccine. The shift from punitive towards rehabilitative measures for drug addicts is not only more practical and cost-effective, it is the only way to formulate a drug policy that adheres to our nation’s ideals of justice and equality.
Alexander, M. (2010). The new jim crow. New York: New Press.