Drug Laws Breed Drug Crime

According to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts, the war on drugs has failed to accomplish its ostensible goals. Federal drug crimes are not falling. In fact, while criminal sentences in areas other than drugs have dropped over the years, drug sentences have continued to rise. From 1980 to 2011, prison sentences for people convicted of drug crimes increased by 36 percent. That was accompanied by mountains of rhetoric about getting tough on crime. Unfortunately, the result of the proliferation of federal drug laws and increasingly harsher sentences has been more crime and enormous costs passed on to taxpayers.

In 1980, before the "War on Drugs" rose to prominence, there were fewer than 5,000 people incarcerated for drug offenses. Today, there are 95,000 serving time for drug crimes. The average sentence for a drug offender was 54.6 months in 1980. By 2011, it was up to 74.2 months. During that time, the average criminal sentence for non-drug crimes actually dropped by 1.6 months. The longer sentences have not substantially changed drug use in America.

The impact on people accused of drug crimes and their families cannot be overstated. A felony conviction can make it difficult, if not impossible, to support a family. Access to housing, education and a career becomes a tall order after a conviction. So the cost to our society extends beyond building and maintaining prisons. Increasingly harsh drug laws have left people to choose between abject poverty and the resumption of criminal activity.

People are not deterred from committing drug crimes by harsh sentences. The Pew paper is the latest to confirm what should have been clear long ago: our federal drug laws, and our actions in prosecuting them, have been a failure.


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