It’s concentrated in extremely small pockets, communities defined almost entirely by race and class, and in … Explore EJI’s report on Era 1: Enslavement and learn how mass incarceration is a legacy of slavery. Still, it is revealing that only totalitarian regimes, past and present, are serious contenders with the "land of the free” when it comes to the business of incarceration. Since the beginning of the 21st century, such centralization has been mirrored throughout the size and scope of government. Various research and theories regarding the causes of crime and punishment imply that they’re predominantly shaped by unplanned and complex social factors. See our fentanyl report to learn about health-centered solutions to the overdose crisis. They are often stereotyped as being violent or addicted to alcohol and other drugs. The criminalization of drugs is closely linked to the criminalization of immigrants, especially those without American citizenship. Indeed, if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rate as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%. This was true throughout the twentieth century, and became especially true in recent decades. We can reduce this stigma by advocating for compassionate, judgment-free approaches to drug use and dependency. It's now common knowledge: The United States is the world's leading nation when it comes to imprisonment. It could be the case that enforcement costs and complexity will grow amid marginal decriminalization. With more than 2.3 million people under the control of the American criminal justice system, the United States has more total prisoners than any other country in the world, and we have the world’s highest incarceration rate—one that is 4 to 8 times higher than those in other liberal democracies. In general, we build more prisons, we spend more money on prisons, we employ more prison workers, and we utilize imprisonment for a wider variety of behaviors than anyone else. Sure, crime rates have gone down since 1980, but studies have found the connection … Police regularly stop, search, and arrest people of color for minor drug-related activities that are not seen as a law enforcement concern when they take place in white communities. These statistics are not to say that the United States is totalitarian, or based on chattel labor. EJI believes ending mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our time. For noncitizens, possession of any amount of any drug can trigger automatic detention and deportation – often without the possibility of return. For example, current users who are underage under the new regime may end up facing more difficulty accessing weed relative to the status quo. Criminalization includes the expansion of law enforcement and the surveillance state to a broad range of activities and settings: zero tolerance policies in schools that steer children into the criminal justice system; welfare policies that punish poor mothers and force them to work outside of the home; employment practices that require workers to compromise their basic civil liberties as a prerequisite for a job; immigration policies that stigmatize and humiliate people while making it difficult for them to access essential services like health care and housing." Of the over 1.5 million inmates recorded in 2012, only 128,300 (approximately 8 percent) were held in private facilities, 96,800 of them federally as opposed to state-contracted facilities.

Simply legalizing marijuana does not untangle the myriad, complex incentives that allowed for prohibitions initially or the ballooning of the War on Drugs.

Steven Levitt infamously demonstrated a statistical correlation between abortion policies and lower violent crime rates. Neighborhoods, counties, and other smaller jurisdictions generally finance and manage police forces, criminal court systems, and even prison construction and operation. America’s incarceration rate has tripled since 1950, when fewer than 300,000 people were incarcerated. Today's total American prison population exceeds the estimated amount of citizens detained within the Gulag system under the former Soviet Union. As long as those incentives and opportunities persist, we should expect political entrepreneurs to manipulate policies and resources for private gain.

Learn about how the drug war has affected Latinx communities. No one should be deported for drug possession. Or maybe the United States isn’t all that unique, considering just the countries that have experienced a proportionally similar increase in prison populations. Relying on the criminal justice system to address issues with drugs wastes money, creates a toxic relationship between the police and the communities they are supposed to protect, and does nothing to address problematic drug use. Again, at first glance much of America's prison growth appears to have come in lockstep with the War on Drugs. Nations like China and Russia likely use more corporal punishment and execute more people. What matters is the quality of monitoring, accountability, and liability processes. Take medical marijuana.

These statements are both true and disconcerting. The United States is the archetypical case. The label of “user” or “seller” and resulting policies often prevent a case-by-case approach to the varied and complex realities of drug use and sales. So what does this mean? This would reduce prison and especially jail costs and begin the hard work to prioritize harm reduction over punishment. With high rates of sentenced inmates, but thin budgets incapable of supporting new prisons or their labor forces, states turn to contractors as cost-saving alternatives without significant quality degradations. We need to alter the rules of engagement by ending these aggressive law enforcement practices that result in the unjust criminalization of people of color and the erosion of police-community relations. Just as pot becomes harder for some people to get, other drugs—such as prescription painkillers or mood-altering drugs (such as Xanax)—could become more readily available. People are stopped by police on drug-related pretexts as part of “stop and frisk,” or because an officer claims to smell marijuana, or simply because they look poor and are in an area associated with drug use.