Petition: Face the Drug War’s Failure

Just posted at

MoveOn uses this site, so maybe it will get some attention. *

SHARE*, everywhere and Please sign here:
This is a petition to The United States House of Representatives, The
United States Senate and President Barack Obama.

* * *

Petition: Face the Drug War’s Failure

Shall we forever entice terrorists, cartels and gangs to seek enormous
profits so easily generated by defying laws against a select few plant

"Within the last year, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition, the US Conference of Mayors and both
the National Black and Latino Police Associations along with the NAACP
and many other international organizations and individuals have called
for an end to the current mechanism of drug war.

Currently, there is not one high echelon proponent of drug war willing
to discuss this subject in any open, public venue. Therefore, let us
quench our thirst for justice and open this dialogue not just on the
editorial pages or the occasional broadcast of two-studio banter, but
rather we must have an open, national debate on the subject of drug war.

We the undersigned therefore beseech the President and the Congress to
mandate that said open and public discourse about the prohibition of
drugs take place forthwith with the Directors of the ONDCP and the DEA.

NOTE: This documents author Dean Becker hosts a weekly radio program at Given the opportunity his first question would be:
"What is the benefit, what have we dervied that offsets the horrible
blowback of waging this, the first eternal war?""

Will you sign this petition? Click here:


Dean Becker
Producer: Drug Truth Network,
Speaker: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition


All private messages posted to this list are considered confidential –
not to be forwarded or redistributed without prior permission of the
original author.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health released today

My latest on Alternet.

Please read and comment. This is the "plug puller" that WSJ, NYT, WAPO,
HouChron, DMN, USAToday refused to print.

America Wages Eternal War on Drugs, Empowering the Very Enemies It
Seeks to Destroy

Dean Becker
Producer: Drug Truth Network,
Speaker: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition


All private messages posted to this list are considered confidential –
not to be forwarded or redistributed without prior permission of the
original author.

PO Box 1234
860 657 8438
Hartford, CT 06143


Working to end race and class drug war injustice, Efficacy is a non profit
501 (c) 3 organization founded in 1997. Your gifts and donations are tax

National Survey on Drug Use and Health released today

Hello Folks,
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
today released its annual National Survey on Drug use and Health.

The Summary of National Findings can be downloaded from SAMHSA at

The report’s "Highlights" section is reprinted below.

The report notes that rates of cannabis use among some parts of the
population have gone up. While the drug czar has attempted to link
this to the growing number of states which allow medical cannabis,
there is no causality shown. The USA Today article on this report is
actually rather good on this particular point:
here’s a brief snippet:
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control
Policy, attributed the uptick in marijuana use to the increase in the
number of states that have approved it for medical use. Delaware in
May became the 16th state to approve medical marijuana.

Marijuana use rates rise and fall in states that allow medical
marijuana in the same fashion as they do in other states, said Bill
Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance,
which advocates decriminalizing marijuana.

"In the field of medicine, whether or not a youth might abuse
something doesn’t determine whether or not an adult should have access
to a medication and whether a doctor should prescribe it," Piper said.

Rebecca McGoldrick, 21, a Brown University senior smokes marijuana to
get relief from pain and nausea caused by fibromyalgia.

"Most of my friends are still unaware of its legal status as a
medicine," said McGoldrick, who is involved with Students for a
Sensible Drug Policy, which advocates decriminalization of drug use.

The legal status didn’t influence whether they smoked marijuana, she said.

"I have plenty of friends who choose to use it and plenty who don’t
choose to," she said. "I think it’s an alternative to alcohol for some

Among young adults age 18 to 25 in 2010, 40.6% reported binge
drinking, defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion
on at least one day in the month before taking the survey, about the
same rate as 2009.

Have a great day,

"One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name."
— from "The Call" by Thomas Osbert Mordaunt (1730-1809)

This report presents the first information from the 2010 National
Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual survey sponsored by
the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA). The survey is the primary source of information on the use
of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in the civilian,
noninstitutionalized population of the United States aged 12 years old
or older. The survey interviews approximately 67,500 persons each
year. Unless otherwise noted, all comparisons in this report described
using terms such as "increased," "decreased," or "more than" are
statistically significant at the .05 level.

Illicit Drug Use
In 2010, an estimated 22.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were
current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an
illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This
estimate represents 8.9 percent of the population aged 12 or older.
Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack),
heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type
psychotherapeutics used nonmedically.

The rate of current illicit drug use among persons aged 12 or older in
2010 (8.9 percent) was similar to the rate in 2009 (8.7 percent), but
higher than the rate in 2008 (8.0 percent).

Marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug. In 2010, there were
17.4 million past month users. Between 2007 and 2010, the rate of use
increased from 5.8 to 6.9 percent, and the number of users increased
from 14.4 million to 17.4 million.

In 2010, there were 1.5 million current cocaine users aged 12 or
older, comprising 0.6 percent of the population. These estimates were
similar to the number and rate in 2009 (1.6 million or 0.7 percent),
but were lower than the estimates in 2006 (2.4 million or 1.0

Hallucinogens were used in the past month by 1.2 million persons (0.5
percent) aged 12 or older in 2010, including 695,000 (0.3 percent) who
had used Ecstasy. These estimates were similar to estimates in 2009.

In 2010, there were 7.0 million (2.7 percent) persons aged 12 or older
who used prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically in the
past month. These estimates were similar to estimates in 2009 (7.0
million or 2.8 percent) and to estimates in 2002 (6.3 million or 2.7

The number of past month methamphetamine users decreased between 2006
and 2010, from 731,000 (0.3 percent) to 353,000 (0.1 percent).

Among youths aged 12 to 17, the current illicit drug use rate was
similar in 2009 (10.0 percent) and 2010 (10.1 percent), but higher
than the rate in 2008 (9.3 percent). Between 2002 and 2008, the rate
declined from 11.6 to 9.3 percent.

The rate of current marijuana use among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased
from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 6.7 percent in 2006, remained unchanged at
6.7 percent in 2007 and 2008, then increased to 7.3 percent in 2009
and 7.4 percent in 2010.

Among youths aged 12 to 17, the rate of current nonmedical use of
prescription-type drugs declined from 4.0 percent in 2002 to 3.0
percent in 2010.

The rate of current Ecstasy use among youths aged 12 to 17 declined
from 0.5 percent in 2002 to 0.3 percent in 2004, remained at that
level through 2007, then increased to 0.5 percent in 2009 and 2010.

The rate of current use of illicit drugs among young adults aged 18 to
25 increased from 19.6 percent in 2008 to 21.2 percent in 2009 and
21.5 percent in 2010, driven largely by an increase in marijuana use
(from 16.5 percent in 2008 to 18.1 percent in 2009 and 18.5 percent in

Among young adults aged 18 to 25, the rate of current nonmedical use
of prescription-type drugs in 2010 was 5.9 percent, similar to the
rate in the years from 2002 to 2009. There were decreases from 2002 to
2010 in the use of cocaine (from 2.0 to 1.5 percent) and
methamphetamine (from 0.6 to 0.2 percent).

Among those aged 50 to 59, the rate of past month illicit drug use
increased from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 5.8 percent in 2010. This trend
partially reflects the aging into this age group of the baby boom
cohort (i.e., persons born between 1946 and 1964), whose lifetime rate
of illicit drug use has been higher than those of older cohorts.

Among persons aged 12 or older in 2009-2010 who used pain relievers
nonmedically in the past 12 months, 55.0 percent got the drug they
most recently used from a friend or relative for free. Another 17.3
percent reported they got the drug from one doctor. Only 4.4 percent
got pain relievers from a drug dealer or other stranger, and 0.4
percent bought them on the Internet. Among those who reported getting
the pain reliever from a friend or relative for free, 79.4 percent
reported in a follow-up question that the friend or relative had
obtained the drugs from just one doctor.

Among unemployed adults aged 18 or older in 2010, 17.5 percent were
current illicit drug users, which was higher than the 8.4 percent of
those employed full time and 11.2 percent of those employed part time.
However, most illicit drug users were employed. Of the 20.2 million
current illicit drug users aged 18 or older in 2010, 13.3 million
(65.9 percent) were employed either full or part time.

In 2010, 10.6 million persons aged 12 or older reported driving under
the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. This corresponds
to 4.2 percent of the population aged 12 or older, which was the same
as the rate in 2009 and lower than the rate in 2002 (4.7 percent). In
2010, the rate was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25 (12.7

Alcohol Use
Slightly more than half of Americans aged 12 or older reported being
current drinkers of alcohol in the 2010 survey (51.8 percent). This
translates to an estimated 131.3 million people, which was similar to
the 2009 estimate of 130.6 million people (51.9 percent).

In 2010, nearly one quarter (23.1 percent) of persons aged 12 or older
participated in binge drinking. This translates to about 58.6 million
people. The rate in 2010 was similar to the estimate in 2009 (23.7
percent). Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on
the same occasion on at least 1 day in the 30 days prior to the

In 2010, heavy drinking was reported by 6.7 percent of the population
aged 12 or older, or 16.9 million people. This rate was similar to the
rate of heavy drinking in 2009 (6.8 percent). Heavy drinking is
defined as binge drinking on at least 5 days in the past 30 days.

Among young adults aged 18 to 25 in 2010, the rate of binge drinking
was 40.6 percent, and the rate of heavy drinking was 13.6 percent.
These rates were similar to the rates in 2009.

The rate of current alcohol use among youths aged 12 to 17 was 13.6
percent in 2010, which was lower than the 2009 rate (14.7 percent).
Youth binge and heavy drinking rates in 2010 (7.8 and 1.7 percent)
were also lower than rates in 2009 (8.8 and 2.1 percent).

There were an estimated 10.0 million underage (aged 12 to 20) drinkers
in 2010, including 6.5 million binge drinkers and 2.0 million heavy

Past month and binge drinking rates among underage persons declined
between 2002 and 2010. Past month use declined from 28.8 to 26.3
percent, while binge drinking declined from 19.3 to 17.0 percent.

In 2010, 55.3 percent of current drinkers aged 12 to 20 reported that
their last use of alcohol in the past month occurred in someone else’s
home, and 29.9 percent reported that it had occurred in their own
home. About one third (30.6 percent) paid for the alcohol the last
time they drank, including 8.8 percent who purchased the alcohol
themselves and 21.6 percent who gave money to someone else to purchase
it. Among those who did not pay for the alcohol they last drank, 38.9
percent got it from an unrelated person aged 21 or older, 16.6 percent
from another person younger than 21 years old, and 21.6 percent from a
parent, guardian, or other adult family member.

In 2010, an estimated 11.4 percent of persons aged 12 or older drove
under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year. This
percentage had dropped since 2002, when it was 14.2 percent. The rate
of driving under the influence of alcohol was highest among persons
aged 21 to 25 (23.4 percent).

Tobacco Use
In 2010, an estimated 69.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were
current (past month) users of a tobacco product. This represents 27.4
percent of the population in that age range. In addition, 58.3 million
persons (23.0 percent of the population) were current cigarette
smokers; 13.2 million (5.2 percent) smoked cigars; 8.9 million (3.5
percent) used smokeless tobacco; and 2.2 million (0.8 percent) smoked
tobacco in pipes.

Between 2002 and 2010, past month use of any tobacco product decreased
from 30.4 to 27.4 percent, and past month cigarette use declined from
26.0 to 23.0 percent. Rates of past month use of cigars, smokeless
tobacco, and pipe tobacco in 2010 were similar to corresponding rates
in 2002.

The rate of past month tobacco use among 12 to 17 year olds declined
from 15.2 percent in 2002 to 10.7 percent in 2010, including a decline
from 2009 (11.6 percent) to 2010. The rate of past month cigarette use
among 12 to 17 year olds also declined between 2002 and 2010, from
13.0 to 8.3 percent, including a decline between 2008 (9.1 percent)
and 2010. Cigar use among youths declined between 2009 and 2010, from
4.0 to 3.2 percent.

Initiation of Substance Use (Incidence, or First-Time Use) within the
Past 12 Months
In 2010, an estimated 3.0 million persons aged 12 or older used an
illicit drug for the first time within the past 12 months. This
averages to about 8,100 initiates per day and was similar to the
estimate for 2009 (3.1 million). A majority of these past year illicit
drug initiates reported that their first drug was marijuana (61.8
percent). About one quarter initiated with psychotherapeutics (26.2
percent, including 17.3 percent with pain relievers, 4.6 percent with
tranquilizers, 2.5 percent with stimulants, and 1.9 percent with
sedatives). A sizable proportion reported inhalants (9.0 percent) as
their first illicit drug, and a small proportion used hallucinogens as
their first drug (3.0 percent).

In 2010, the illicit drug categories with the largest number of past
year initiates among persons aged 12 or older were marijuana use (2.4
million) and nonmedical use of pain relievers (2.0 million). These
estimates were not significantly different from the numbers in 2009.
However, the number of marijuana initiates increased between 2007 (2.1
million) and 2010 (2.4 million).

In 2010, the average age of marijuana initiates among persons aged 12
to 49 was 18.4 years, significantly higher than the average age of
marijuana initiates in 2002 (17.0 years).

The number of past year initiates of methamphetamine among persons
aged 12 or older was 105,000 in 2010. This estimate was significantly
lower than the estimate in 2007 (157,000) and only about one third of
the estimate in 2002 (299,000).

The number of past year initiates of Ecstasy aged 12 or older was
similar in 2009 (1.1 million) and 2010 (937,000), but these estimates
were an increase from 2005 (615,000).

The number of past year cocaine initiates aged 12 or older declined
from 1.0 million in 2002 to 637,000 in 2010. The number of initiates
of crack cocaine declined during this period from 337,000 to 83,000.

In 2010, there were 140,000 persons aged 12 or older who used heroin
for the first time within the past year, not significantly different
from the estimates from 2002 to 2009. Estimates during those years
ranged from 91,000 to 180,000 per year.

Most (82.4 percent) of the 4.7 million past year alcohol initiates
were younger than 21 at the time of initiation.

The number of persons aged 12 or older who smoked cigarettes for the
first time within the past 12 months was 2.4 million in 2010, similar
to the estimate in 2009 (2.5 million), but significantly higher than
the estimate for 2002 (1.9 million). Most new smokers in 2010 were
younger than 18 when they first smoked cigarettes (58.8 percent or 1.4

The number of persons aged 12 or older who used smokeless tobacco for
the first time within the past year increased from 928,000 in 2003 to
1.4 million in 2010.

Youth Prevention-Related Measures
Perceived risk is measured by NSDUH as the percentage reporting that
there is great risk in the substance use behavior. The percentage of
youths aged 12 to 17 perceiving great risk in smoking marijuana once
or twice a week decreased from 54.7 percent in 2007 to 47.5 percent in
2010. Between 2002 and 2008, the percentages who reported great risk
in smoking one or more packs of cigarettes per day increased from 63.1
to 69.7 percent, but the percentage dropped to 65.8 percent in 2009
and remained steady at 65.5 percent in 2010.

Almost half (48.6 percent) of youths aged 12 to 17 reported in 2010
that it would be "fairly easy" or "very easy" for them to obtain
marijuana if they wanted some. Approximately one in five reported it
would be easy to get cocaine (19.0 percent). About one in seven (12.9
percent) indicated that LSD would be "fairly" or "very" easily
available, and 11.6 percent reported easy availability for heroin.
Between 2002 and 2010, there were declines in the perceived
availability for all four drugs.

A majority of youths aged 12 to 17 (89.6 percent) in 2010 reported
that their parents would strongly disapprove of their trying marijuana
or hashish once or twice. Current marijuana use was much less
prevalent among youths who perceived strong parental disapproval for
trying marijuana or hashish once or twice than for those who did not
(4.4 vs. 32.8 percent).

In 2010, three quarters (75.9 percent) of youths aged 12 to 17
reported having seen or heard drug or alcohol prevention messages from
sources outside of school, lower than in 2002 (83.2 percent). The
percentage of school-enrolled youths reporting that they had seen or
heard prevention messages at school also declined during this period,
from 78.8 to 75.4 percent.

Substance Dependence, Abuse, and Treatment
In 2010, an estimated 22.1 million persons (8.7 percent of the
population aged 12 or older) were classified with substance dependence
or abuse in the past year based on criteria specified in the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition
(DSM-IV). Of these, 2.9 million were classified with dependence or
abuse of both alcohol and illicit drugs, 4.2 million had dependence or
abuse of illicit drugs but not alcohol, and 15.0 million had
dependence or abuse of alcohol but not illicit drugs.

Between 2002 and 2010, the number of persons with substance dependence
or abuse was stable (22.0 million in 2002 and 22.1 million in 2010).

The specific illicit drugs that had the highest levels of past year
dependence or abuse in 2010 were marijuana (4.5 million), pain
relievers (1.9 million), and cocaine (1.0 million). The number of
persons with marijuana dependence or abuse did not change between 2002
and 2010, but the number with pain reliever dependence or abuse
increased (from 1.5 million to 1.9 million) and the number with
cocaine dependence or abuse declined (from 1.5 million to 1.0

In 2010, adults aged 21 or older who had first used alcohol at age 14
or younger were more than 5 times as likely to be classified with
alcohol dependence or abuse than adults who had their first drink at
age 21 or older (15.1 vs. 2.7 percent).

Between 2002 and 2010, the percentage of youths aged 12 to 17 with
substance dependence or abuse declined from 8.9 to 7.3 percent.

Treatment need is defined as having a substance use disorder or
receiving treatment at a specialty facility (hospital inpatient, drug
or alcohol rehabilitation, or mental health centers) within the past
12 months. In 2010, 23.1 million persons aged 12 or older needed
treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem (9.1 percent of
persons aged 12 or older). Of these, 2.6 million (1.0 percent of
persons aged 12 or older and 11.2 percent of those who needed
treatment) received treatment at a specialty facility. Thus, 20.5
million persons (8.1 percent of the population aged 12 or older)
needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem but did
not receive treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.

Of the 20.5 million persons aged 12 or older in 2010 who were
classified as needing substance use treatment but did not receive
treatment at a specialty facility in the past year, 1.0 million
persons (5.0 percent) reported that they felt they needed treatment
for their illicit drug or alcohol use problem. Of these 1.0 million
persons who felt they needed treatment, 341,000 (33.3 percent)
reported that they made an effort to get treatment, and 683,000 (66.7
percent) reported making no effort to get treatment.

The number of people receiving specialty treatment in the past year in
2010 (2.6 million) was similar to the number in 2002 (2.3 million).
However, the number receiving specialty treatment for a problem with
nonmedical pain reliever use more than doubled during this period,
from 199,000 to 406,000.
All private messages posted to this list are considered confidential –
not to be forwarded or redistributed without prior permission of the
original author.

PO Box 1234
860 657 8438
Hartford, CT 06143


Working to end race and class drug war injustice, Efficacy is a non profit
501 (c) 3 organization founded in 1997. Your gifts and donations are tax

Medicalization? Decriminalization? Legalization? The Drug War






What do these 3 terms mean,

  and how would they affect •the “drug war”,


                                                •crime in our streets,

                                                •prison costs/the state budget?



– director of Efficacy & international expert on drug policy –

will define the 3 terms

and discuss these alternatives with us



2:00—4:00 pm


New Haven Public Library

Elm  & Temple St. – Lower Level

(see sign at stairway for exact location)


sponsor: PEOPLE AGAINST INJUSTICE            info: Mary Johnson 203-387-7858

See related:

Clifford Thornton War on Drugs

Cultural Baggage * Century of Lies * 4:20 Drug War NEWS * Time 4 Hemp

Cultural Baggage for  09/12/10 29:00 NORML report from Conference in Portland w/Madelyn Martinez Dir "World Famous Cannabis Cafe", Steve Dillon Dir of NORML,Steve DeAngelo Dir Harborside Health Center, John Walker of Firedog Lake, Steff Sherrer of Americans for Safe Access & Tristen Reismer reporer for KPOV, Bend Oregon



Century of Lies for  09/12/10  29:00  Reports from Portland convention; for NORML with Gary Johnson former Gov of New Mexico, Alice Huffman head of Calif NAACP, Jasmine Tyler of DPA, Neil Franklin of LEAP and Vertel Jackson of Florida NORML



4:20 Drug War NEWS, 09/13 to 09/19/10  Link at on the right margin –

Sun – Steve Dillon, Chairman of National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, recorded in Portland
Sat – Steve DeAngelo, Pres of Harborside Health Center on the growth of the cannabis industry
Fri – Alice Huffman, head of Calif NAACP on why they support cannabis leglaization
Thu – Reporting from "World Famous Cannabis Cafe" in Portland with Madeline Martinez
Wed – Reporting from NORML Conf in Portland with Jasmine Tyler of Drug Policy Alliance
Tue – Neill Franklin, Dir of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition at the NORML Conf in Portland
Mon – Interview with Gary Johnson, former Gov of New Mexico re failure of drug war at NORML Conf in Portland
Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston, 90.1 FM.  You can Listen Live Online at

-  Cultural Baggage Sun, 7:30 PM ET, 6:30 PM CT, 5:30 PM MT, 4:30 PM PT

-  Century of Lies, SUN, 8 PM ET, 7 PM CT, 6 PM MT & 5 PM PT

Who’s Next?":  Dr. Mitch Earlywine, Steph Sherrer, Steve Bloom, Dr. David Bearman

Hundreds of our programs are available online at, and now at James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

We have potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates.  You can tune into both our 1/2 hour programs, live, at 6:30 central time on Pacifica’s KPFT at  and call in your questions and concerns toll free at 1-877-9-420 420

The two, 29:00 shows appear along with the seven, daily, 3:00  "4:20 Drug War NEWS" reports each Monday morning at .  We currently have 91 affiliated, yet independent broadcast stations.  With a simple email request to , your station can join the Drug Truth Network, free of charge.

Check out our latest videos via  Please become part of the solution, visit our website: for links to the best of reform.  "Prohibition is evil." – Reverend Dean Becker, DTN Producer, 713-462-7981,

PO Box 1234
860 657 8438
Hartford, CT 06143

Working to end race and class drug war injustice, Efficacy is a non profit
501 (c) 3 organization founded in 1997. Your gifts and donations are tax

See related:

Clifford Thornton War on Drugs

Connecticut’s Drug War is a Bust—-Cliff Thornton event at U of M

Connecticut’s Drug War is a Bust
Written by Alan Bisbort
Tuesday, 17 August 2010 17:00

Politicians, academics and former police press for a more candid discussion about the costs of criminalizing drugs


When Clifford Thornton was two weeks shy of graduating high school in 1963, a Hartford police officer showed up at his grandmother’s door one Sunday morning. The cop asked Thornton to accompany him to a nearby field. There, inside an abandoned car, was the body of Thornton’s mother, dead of an apparent heroin overdose.

"No words can describe how I felt," says Thornton. "But, as I came to my senses, one thought resonated: all illegal drugs should be eradicated from the face of the earth."

As the years passed, though, Thornton noticed that the exact opposite was occurring in Hartford. That is, as more money and police effort was funneled to the "war on drugs," more and different drugs were flooding into Hartford – and more Hartford residents were being sent off to prison, the disproportionate number "black and brown."

This was not a figment of his imagination. Connecticut currently has about 17,000 prison inmates with another 50,000 on parole. "Black and Latino men make up less than 6 percent of the state’s population, but account for 68 percent of the prison population," says Thornton, who with his wife Margaret founded Efficacy, an organization advocating for drug-policy reform. "It costs $600 million a year to run the state prison system. That money could be better spent."

This is not just happening in Connecticut. In 1975, the incarceration rate in the U.S. was 100 per 100,000 people, a rate that hadn’t changed much in the previous half century. Since 1975, the incarceration rate has climbed to 700 per 100,000. This dramatic increase is due to drugs. Since Richard Nixon declared his "war on drugs," drug arrests have increased 1,100 percent. Eighty percent of all arrests are drug related; eighty percent of the prison sentences for "drug offenses" are for possession (read: non-violent users). If the goal was to reduce use and availability, we have lost the war. Drugs are more readily available and more dangerous than ever. Hartford is just one more battlefield in this lost cause, like Bridgeport, Waterbury, et al.

The final straw for Thornton – who, if anyone should hate drugs forever, he would be the person – came when a former co-worker was convicted on a drug conspiracy charge and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Thornton believes the man was framed and unfairly convicted. Thornton took early retirement soon thereafter and devoted his life to this cause.

"This issue has been pushing me for three decades," says Thornton, the 2006 Green Party gubernatorial candidate who now lives in Glastonbury. "This has to stop because kids can now get illegal drugs more easily, and more cheaply, than legal drugs tobacco and alcohol." For a population of 30,000, Thornton estimates Glastonbury spends somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million a year for the war on drugs. "This is the insanity we are dealing with."

Thornton’s belief that the drug war in Hartford is a bust now has some persuasive allies. For one, statistics are on his side. A recent report prepared by Dr. Robert Painter, under the direction of Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, bears this out. Despite its unassuming title ("Compilation of local costs of Connecticut’s current drug Policies"), the report offers a stiff dose of Hartford’s daily reality. Painter and his co-author Dr. Susan Pease, CCSU’s Arts and Sciences dean, take a pragmatic, rather than hysterical view: "It is time to examine the cost associated with the enforcement of current drug laws to determine whether the outcome justifies resources expended."

In a word, their answer is "No."

It’s not as if Painter’s and Pease’s conclusions – similar to those of Thornton’s – come as a surprise, but the numbers still boggle the mind. Using a method developed by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, they determined that the annual cost of the drug war to the Hartford Police Department is $21,933,814; the cost to state taxpayers to imprison Hartford’s drug arrestees, $14,020,621; probation and parole for same costs another $10 million, and another $7.5 million goes to half way and transitional houses. Homicide costs are $34,253,783, overdose death costs are $25 million. And, finally, the taxes lost that were not collected from the $42 million in annual drug sales in Hartford – a conservative estimate in Thornton’s view – would have amounted to more than $8 million.

When asked about Painter’s and Pease’s report, Nancy Mulroy, a Hartford Police Department spokesperson, says that the chief had not seen it and would look it over and perhaps respond. About the "drug war" itself, Mulroy says, "The word ‘war’ makes it sound so trite or outdated. We target drug-driven crime in Hartford and, in particular, gun possession, by seizing weapons from people we know who have been involved with violence. We start in the spring trying to get the guns off the street. But the sources for guns in Hartford are so varying."

Whether or not the current campaigns against drugs in Hartford constitute a "war," Mulroy points to the weekly crime statistics that are posted on the Hartford Police Department website ( She says, "We are not going to win any war by ourselves and any so-called war on drugs will not have to just be won in Hartford."

Painter, a former Hartford City Council minority leader and director of surgery at St. Francis Hospital, has witnessed the drug war from a unique perspective.

"As a surgeon, I did a lot of trauma work and I always worried that the gunshot victims might be addicts or that someone would burst into the emergency room to finish the job," says Painter, now retired. "But it wasn’t until I was on the city council that I saw almost every ill that we talked about was related in some way to the drug war. Whether it was education, unemployment, housing, you name it."

Because drugs, and the hysteria and ignorance surrounding them, are so pervasive, Painter convened a national conference at Trinity College in 2005.

"I got tired of hearing one side say, ‘Well, we should just legalize everything and the problems would go away’ and the other side say, ‘We need more money, more prisons, lock all druggies up.’ Neither is a profitable position from which to talk about the huge problem of drugs. Thus, the report for CCSU was my attempt to attack the issue strictly by the numbers."

Painter’s preference is not, he insists, "to get people softened to the idea of legalizing drugs" but, rather, to offer them as much hard factual data and informed material so that they can make rational decisions. The implied message is this: Do we really want to continue pouring this kind of money into something that is only getting worse?

"We need another plan," Painter says. "Let’s look to other countries, find out where policies have worked. But let’s NOT approach this as a Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative thing. It’s not one of those issues. It’s destroying our city, state and country."

"This economic report coming from a university helps give the issue credibility," says Thornton. "Not that it didn’t have it before, but a university’s input helps dispel the fear of talking about it. The law enforcement community also brings credibility."

Thornton points to Joseph Brooks, who spent 30 years with the Manchester Police Department. Brooks commanded the Tritown Narcotics Task Force, for Manchester, Vernon and South Windsor. From that vantage point he saw the impact of the drug war on the communities, families and the entire social structure.

"We knew we had strong drug traffic in Manchester that wasn’t being addressed," says Brooks. "We were successful at first, arresting 33 people in our first raid. The problem was that those arrested were our neighbors and friends, solid citizens who believed smoking a joint was no worse than drinking a can of beer. It was very upsetting to see them in this predicament."

Then, there was the animosity this generated in the community, where former friends were now "enemies."

"This anger and bitterness is an important and overlooked part of the fallout from the drug war," says Brooks. "The police are forced to implement ill-conceived policies. They’re not living up to ‘protect and serve.’"

The long-term effects – or "downstream costs," as Painter and Pease say – are profound. When someone is sent to jail for drug possession, chances are that they are a family provider.

"Say they’ve got two kids," says Brooks. "Who’s going to take care of those kids while they’re locked up? They will go on welfare, and we end up paying for the imprisonment of the wage earner plus the welfare needed to support the family. How are we gaining from this?"

"Bill Clinton and George Bush both used drugs," says Painter. "Would their lives have been improved if they’d been caught and given a year in prison? Well, one out of every six kids in Hartford has a close relative in prison. We are destroying families."

Brooks is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization based in Medford, Mass., comprising members of the law enforcement and criminal justice networks who believe current drug policies have failed.

"We have spent more than $1 trillion in the U.S. on this war and are working on a second trillion now," says Brooks. "Cops all over the country have been killed in drug raids. When my officers went into houses on raids, I went with them. We often found guns, which scared me. Drug dealers were preparing for violence, from other drug dealers, from buyers and, of course, from the police. That is just a crazy situation."

Brooks has recounted his experiences in the front lines for hundreds of audiences.

"What I normally say when I am giving a speech is that it’s too bad that hypocrisy was not currency because if so we would never have a budget deficit," he says. "The hypocrisy in the federal versus the state laws regarding medical marijuana is just one example. Fourteen states have said yes to medical pot but the feds are still busting state growers."

Brooks believes that the misconceptions about drugs that most members of the general public have begins with the most familiar one: marijuana.

"It is not a gateway drug, never has been," he says. "Gateway drugs start long before pot. They start with cigarettes and alcohol and now we have a pharmaceutical problem. Kids are breaking into medical cabinets for their parents’ Oxycontin and Vicodin."

Brooks is particularly disdainful of elected officials using drugs for political gain.

"The marijuana bill [the Compassionate Use Act, HB 6715, which would have allowed medical use of marijuana] was passed by the state house and senate but vetoed by Gov. Rell, who talked about ‘gateway’ drugs," he says. "I will never believe she made that decision from anything other than a political position. It was not a moral decision. We in the drug-war arena know that gateway drug talk is B.S."

Painter also sees a misconception about heroin addiction, and the hysterical fears of a zombie army of junkies roaming the streets.

"The heroin addiction rate in this country is 1.3 percent and has remained steady for the past century," he says. "We are going to have heroin addicts no matter what we do. We are going to have alcoholics and nicotine addicts too and a lot of recreational use of these drugs. Finding drugs in urine is a violation of parole. We will never get rid of this scourge by sending people to prison for drugs in their urine. It’s ridiculous. If they rob, OK, send them back. But so many people are in jail on technicalities, for dirty urine. What have we gained?"

Talk of the problems with drug sentencing eventually leads to the subject of prison policy. Brooks likes to cite the TV show "Lock Up" in which a squad does nothing but go through mail to find out how the drugs are getting inside the prison.

"If we can’t keep drugs out of the most secure places in the country, how are we going to keep them off the streets? It is just unrealistic, a fantasy, to think that we can have a drug-free society," says Brooks, then adds, "The privatization of prisons is partly to blame. What’s the best way to make a profit? By keeping the prison cells full. What’s the best way to fill prison cells? Arrest and convict non-violent drug offenders, who will quietly serve their time."

LEAP’s most controversial point of advocacy is legalization.

"LEAP is arguing for legalization," says Brooks, mincing no words. "We would like to see all drugs legalized, controlled and medicalized."

Surprisingly, perhaps, Brooks is hearing more support for this from those most affected by the drug plague: the inner city communities.

LaResse Harvey, for one, is on board with this idea. Policy director for Hartford-based A Better Way Foundation, Harvey works with community groups and families for a "sensible shift in drug policy" throughout the state. After major drug busts – like recent DEA-collaborative sweeps in Hartford, New Britain and Waterbury – she hears from 20 or 30 new families whose father, husband or brother have been removed to a jail cell for possession of drugs. All of this is, in her view, a colossal waste of resources.

"We need to be proactive instead of reactive," says Harvey, her voice rising. "We need to transfer these resources into schools. We lost 2,000 teachers in Connecticut in the last year. Rather than have hundreds of correctional officers paid to babysit adults in jails, they should be used to implement programs at treatment centers. The Department of Corrections has failed at its job. It was created to ‘correct’ adverse behaviors."

Though there are loud voices in the community raised against legalization or even decriminalization – and the NAACP recently created an uproar among black church groups by supporting California Proposition 19, aka the "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010" – Harvey has a ready answer.

"When members of the religious community raise protests against drug reform, all I can do is educate them with the facts," she says. "Look at the pews inside your own churches. What do you see? A lot of women, single parents, or mothers and wives whose husbands are serving time for drugs. They are raising kids without fathers. What happened to all the men inside the churches? They got caught in the drug wars."

Economic conditions have made people more receptive to the idea, which further gets Harvey worked up. "People are saying we need to do something about this because of the economy, but I say no, we need to do it because it has to be done. We are losing entire generations of young men."

Brooks cites a successful Swiss program that "medicalized" heroin for addicts 12 years ago. Clinics were established where addicts could be examined by doctors and have a stabilizing dose determined for them. They are given their daily injections with clean needles and under medical supervision. Brooks says that it has had "amazing results," resulting in a 60 percent drop in crime, practically eliminated overdoses and nearly eradicated the HIV problem.

"A lot of patients went back to their families," he says. "They are no longer living under bridges or on the street, scrounging for money to feed their habits. Many went back to work, all because this was treated as a medical problem. It all comes back to politics and money."

Brooks knows that legalization is a hard sell.

"LEAP is saying that whether you agree or not, we’ve been there. And we aren’t saying that drug problems are not going to stop if the drugs are legalized just the way that alcoholism did not stop when Prohibition ended. Isn’t it time after 40 years and $1 trillion that we look at something more productive?"

Painter would be happy just to have a more open and honest dialogue.

He says, "There is no guarantee that the level of drug-related violence seen in Mexico won’t happen here. Why wait to test that out? Let’s help lawmakers, give them some cover by ratcheting down the hysteria and rhetoric. Let’s help police departments realign their priorities."

Painter would like to see other "small steps" taken now, like treating drug addicts for their addictions in prison and, if at all possible, finding somewhere to send addicts for medical treatment for their habits rather than prison cells.

"Right now, the only treatments available are 12-step programs and detoxification. You could have been treated for years with methadone and end up in prison and you will be detoxed from the medicine that has kept you alive," he says. "Would you take away insulin from a diabetic? Among the stupid reasons for taking away methadone is that we want to promote a drug-free ethic in prison, which is crazy, since 80 percent of the inmates are drug users."

Painter sees some openness to these ideas in the legislature and state agencies.

"There are people inside these agencies [DCF, Mental Health] who are looking at these things. We need to make some little steps," he says. "A good start would be to get rid of three-strikes laws all over the country, which are just stupid."

Thornton is in favor of legalization, but with a disclaimer. His "Restorative Justice" program (which can be found at the Efficacy website) states that "Legalization without indemnification is totally irresponsible. If you legalize drugs and then walk away, it could be worse. Something has to replace that underground economy in Hartford and in every other town and city where drugs are sold and money made."

Thornton has a few words for Connecticut’s gubernatorial candidates. He points out that it costs about $100 to produce a pound of heroin; that pound on the streets of Hartford is worth about $60,000. "My statement to the candidates is, seeing as how they’re talking jobs, jobs and more jobs, legitimate economic investment can never be more profitable than prohibition-induced drug trafficking or cultivation."

No matter what the future holds, Thornton will keep the drug-reform dialogue alive.

"Fear of talking about reforming drug policy promotes intellectual dishonesty," he says.

PO Box 1234
860 657 8438
Hartford, CT 06143

Working to end race and class drug war injustice, Efficacy is a non profit
501 (c) 3 organization founded in 1997. Your gifts and donations are tax

See related:

Clifford Thornton War on Drugs

Rough justice in America

Too many laws, too many prisoners

Never in the civilized world have so many been locked up for so little

Jul 22nd 2010 | Spring, Texas

THREE pickup trucks pulled up outside George Norris’s home in Spring, Texas. Six armed police in flak jackets jumped out. Thinking they must have come to the wrong place, Mr Norris opened his front door, and was startled to be shoved against a wall and frisked for weapons. He was forced into a chair for four hours while officers ransacked his house. They pulled out drawers, rifled through papers, dumped things on the floor and eventually loaded 37 boxes of Mr Norris’s possessions onto their pickups. They refused to tell him what he had done wrong. "It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that," he recalls.

Mr Norris was 65 years old at the time, and a collector of orchids. He eventually discovered that he was suspected of smuggling the flowers into America, an offence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This came as a shock. He did indeed import flowers and sell them to other orchid-lovers. And it was true that his suppliers in Latin America were sometimes sloppy about their paperwork. In a shipment of many similar-looking plants, it was rare for each permit to match each orchid precisely.

In March 2004, five months after the raid, Mr Norris was indicted, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with a suspected murderer and two suspected drug-dealers. When told why he was there, "they thought it hilarious." One asked: "What do you do with these things? Smoke ’em?"

Prosecutors described Mr Norris as the "kingpin" of an international smuggling ring. He was dumbfounded: his annual profits were never more than about $20,000. When prosecutors suggested that he should inform on other smugglers in return for a lighter sentence, he refused, insisting he knew nothing beyond hearsay.

He pleaded innocent. But an undercover federal agent had ordered some orchids from him, a few of which arrived without the correct papers. For this, he was charged with making a false statement to a government official, a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Since he had communicated with his suppliers, he was charged with conspiracy, which also carries a potential five-year term.

As his legal bills exploded, Mr Norris reluctantly changed his plea to guilty, though he still protests his innocence. He was sentenced to 17 months in prison. After some time, he was released while his appeal was heard, but then put back inside. His health suffered: he has Parkinson’s disease, which was not helped by the strain of imprisonment. For bringing some prescription sleeping pills into prison, he was put in solitary confinement for 71 days. The prison was so crowded, however, that even in solitary he had two room-mates.

A long love affair with lock and key

Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under "correctional" supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.

The system has three big flaws, say criminologists. First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them.

In 1970 the proportion of Americans behind bars was below one in 400, compared with today’s one in 100. Since then, the voters, alarmed at a surge in violent crime, have demanded fiercer sentences. Politicians have obliged. New laws have removed from judges much of their discretion to set a sentence that takes full account of the circumstances of the offence. Since no politician wants to be tarred as soft on crime, such laws, mandating minimum sentences, are seldom softened. On the contrary, they tend to get harder.

Some criminals belong behind bars. When a habitual rapist is locked up, the streets are safer. But the same is not necessarily true of petty drug-dealers, whose incarceration creates a vacancy for someone else to fill, argues Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University. The number of drug offenders in federal and state lock-ups has increased 13-fold since 1980. Some are scary thugs; many are not.

Michelle Collette of Hanover, Massachusetts, sold Percocet, a prescription painkiller. "I was planning to do it just once," she says, "but the money was so easy. And I thought: it’s not heroin." Then she became addicted to her own wares. She was unhappy with her boyfriend, she explains, but did not want to split up with him, because she did not want their child to grow up fatherless, as she had. So she popped pills to numb the misery. Before long, she was taking 20-30 a day.

When Ms Collette and her boyfriend, who also sold drugs, were arrested in a dawn raid, the police found 607 pills and $901 in cash. The boyfriend fought the charges and got 15 years in prison. In a plea bargain Ms Collette was sentenced to seven years, of which she served six.

"I don’t think this is fair," said the judge. "I don’t think this is what our laws are meant to do. It’s going to cost upwards of $50,000 a year to have you in state prison. Had I the authority, I would send you to jail for no more than one year.and a [treatment] programme after that." But mandatory sentencing laws gave him no choice.

Massachusetts is a liberal state, but its drug laws are anything but. It treats opium-derived painkillers such as Percocet like hard drugs, if illicitly sold. Possession of a tiny amount (14-28 grams, or ½-1 ounce) yields a minimum sentence of three years. For 200 grams, it is 15 years, more than the minimum for armed rape. And the weight of the other substances with which a dealer mixes his drugs is included in the total, so 10 grams of opiates mixed with 190 grams of flour gets you 15 years.

Ms Collette underwent drug treatment before being locked up, and is now clean. But in prison she found she was pregnant. After going through labour shackled to a hospital bed, she was allowed only 48 hours to bond with her newborn son. She was released in March, found a job in a shop, and is hoping that her son will get used to having her around.

Rigid sentencing laws shift power from judges to prosecutors, complains Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a pressure-group. Even the smallest dealer often has enough to trigger a colossal sentence. Prosecutors may charge him with selling a smaller amount if he agrees to "reel some other poor slob in", as Ms Dougan puts it. He is told to persuade another dealer to sell him just enough drugs to trigger a 15-year sentence, and perhaps to do the deal near a school, which adds another two years.

Severe drug laws have unintended consequences. Less than half of American cancer patients receive adequate painkillers, according to the American Pain Foundation, another pressure-group. One reason is that doctors are terrified of being accused of drug-trafficking if they over-prescribe. In 2004 William Hurwitz, a doctor specialising in the control of pain, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for prescribing pills that a few patients then resold on the black market. Virginia’s board of medicine ruled that he had acted in good faith, but he still served nearly four years.

Half the states have laws that lock up habitual offenders for life. In some states this applies only to violent criminals, but in others it applies even to petty ones. Some 3,700 people who committed neither violent nor serious crimes are serving life sentences under California’s "three strikes and you’re out" law. In Alabama a petty thief called Jerald Sanders was given a life term for pinching a bicycle. Alabama’s judges are elected, as are those in 32 other states. This makes them mindful of public opinion: some appear in campaign advertisements waving guns and bragging about how tough they are.

Watching hairs go white, and lifetimes ebb away

Many Americans assume that white-collar criminals get off lightly, but many do not. Granted, they may be hard to catch and can often afford good lawyers. But federal prosecutors can file many charges for what is essentially one offence. For example, they can count each e-mail sent by a white-collar criminal in the course of his criminal activity as a separate case of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The decades soon add up. Sentences depend partly on the size of the loss and the number of people affected, so if you work for a big, publicly traded company, you break a rule and the share-price drops, watch out.

Eternal punishment

Jim Felman, a defence lawyer in Tampa, Florida, says America is conducting "an experiment in imprisoning first-time non-violent offenders for periods of time previously reserved only for those who had killed someone". One of Mr Felman’s clients, a fraudster called Sholam Weiss, was sentenced to 845 years. "I got it reduced to 835," sighs Mr Felman. Faced with such penalties, he says, the incentive to co-operate, which means to say things that are helpful to the prosecution, is overwhelming. And this, he believes, "warps the truth-seeking function" of justice.

Innocent defendants may plead guilty in return for a shorter sentence to avoid the risk of a much longer one. A prosecutor can credibly threaten a middle-aged man that he will die in a cell unless he gives evidence against his boss. This is unfair, complains Harvey Silverglate, the author of "Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent". If a defence lawyer offers a witness money to testify that his client is innocent, that is bribery. But a prosecutor can legally offer something of far greater value-his freedom-to a witness who says the opposite. The potential for wrongful convictions is obvious.

Badly drafted laws create traps for the unwary. In 2006 Georgia Thompson, a civil servant in Wisconsin, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for depriving the public of "the intangible right of honest services". Her crime was to award a contract (for travel services) to the best bidder. A firm called Adelman Travel scored the most points (on an official scale) for price and quality, so Ms Thompson picked it. She ignored a rule that required her to penalise Adelman for a slapdash presentation when bidding. For this act of common sense, she served four months. (An appeals court freed her.)

The "honest services" statute, if taken seriously, "would seemingly cover a salaried employee’s phoning in sick to go to a ball game," fumes Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice. The Supreme Court ruled recently that the statute was so vague as to be unconstitutional. It did not strike it down completely, but said it should be applied only in cases involving bribery or kickbacks. The challenge was brought by Enron’s former boss, Jeff Skilling, who will not go free despite his victory, and Conrad Black, a media magnate released this week on bail pending an appeal, who may.

There are over 4,000 federal crimes, and many times that number of regulations that carry criminal penalties. When analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offences on the books, they were forced to give up, exhausted. Rules concerning corporate governance or the environment are often impossible to understand, yet breaking them can land you in prison. In many criminal cases, the common-law requirement that a defendant must have a mens rea (ie, he must or should know that he is doing wrong) has been weakened or erased.

"The founders viewed the criminal sanction as a last resort, reserved for serious offences, clearly defined, so ordinary citizens would know whether they were violating the law. Yet over the last 40 years, an unholy alliance of big-business-hating liberals and tough-on-crime conservatives has made criminalisation the first line of attack-a way to demonstrate seriousness about the social problem of the month, whether it’s corporate scandals or e-mail spam," writes Gene Healy, a libertarian scholar. "You can serve federal time for interstate transport of water hyacinths, trafficking in unlicensed dentures, or misappropriating the likeness of Woodsy Owl."

"You’re (probably) a federal criminal," declares Alex Kozinski, an appeals-court judge, in a provocative essay of that title. Making a false statement to a federal official is an offence. So is lying to someone who then repeats your lie to a federal official. Failing to prevent your employees from breaking regulations you have never heard of can be a crime. A boss got six months in prison because one of his workers accidentally broke a pipe, causing oil to spill into a river. "It didn’t matter that he had no reason to learn about the [Clean Water Act’s] labyrinth of regulations, since he was merely a railroad-construction supervisor," laments Judge Kozinski.

Society wants retribution

Such cases account for only a tiny share of the Americans behind bars, but they still matter. When so many people are technically breaking the law, it is up to prosecutors to decide whom to pursue. No doubt most prosecutors choose wisely. But members of unpopular groups may not find that reassuring. Ms Thompson, for example, was prosecuted just before an election, at a time when allegations of public corruption in Wisconsin were in the news. Some prosecutors, such as Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced ex-governor of New York, have built political careers by nailing people whom voters don’t like, such as financiers.

Prison deters? Not much, not the worst

Some people argue that the system works: that crime has fallen in the past two decades because the bad guys are either in prison or scared of being sent there. Caged thugs cannot break into your home. Bernie Madoff’s 150-year sentence for running a Ponzi scam should deter imitators. And indeed the crime rate continues to drop, despite the recession, as Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an advocacy group, points out. This, he says, is because habitual criminals face serious consequences. Some research supports him: after raking through decades of historical data, John Donohue of Yale Law School estimates that a 10% increase in imprisonment brings a 2% reduction in crime.

Others disagree. Using more recent data, Bert Useem of Purdue University and Anne Piehl of Rutgers University estimate that a 10% increase in the number of people behind bars would reduce crime by only 0.5%. In the states that currently lock up the most people, imprisoning more would actually increase crime, they believe. Some inmates emerge from prison as more accomplished criminals. And raising the incarceration rate means locking up people who are, on average, less dangerous than the ones already behind bars. A recent study found that, over the past 13 years, the proportion of new prisoners in Florida who had committed violent crimes fell by 28%, whereas those inside for "other" crimes shot up by 189%. These "other" crimes were non-violent ones involving neither drugs nor theft, such as driving with a suspended licence.

And now the reckoning, in dollars

Crime is a young man’s game. Muggers over 30 are rare. Ex-cons who go straight for a few years generally stay that way: a study of 88,000 criminals by Mr Blumstein found that if someone was arrested for aggravated assault at the age of 18 but then managed to stay out of trouble until the age of 22, the risk of his offending was no greater than that for the general population. Yet America’s prisons are crammed with old folk. Nearly 200,000 prisoners are over 50. Most would pose little threat if released. And since people age faster in prison than outside, their medical costs are vast. Human Rights Watch, a lobby-group, talks of "nursing homes with razor wire".

Jail is expensive. Spending per prisoner ranges from $18,000 a year in Mississippi to about $50,000 in California, where the cost per pupil is but a seventh of that. "[W]e are well past the point of diminishing returns," says a report by the Pew Center on the States. In Washington state, for example, each dollar invested in new prison places in 1980 averted more than nine dollars of criminal harm (using a somewhat arbitrary scale to assign a value to not being beaten up). By 2001, as the emphasis shifted from violent criminals to drug-dealers and thieves, the cost-benefit ratio reversed. Each new dollar spent on prisons averted only 37 cents’ worth of harm.

Since the recession threw their budgets into turmoil, many states have decided to imprison fewer people, largely to save money. Mississippi has reduced the proportion of their sentences that non-violent offenders are required to serve from 85% to 25%. Texas is making greater use of non-custodial penalties. New York has repealed most mandatory minimum terms for drug offences. In all, the number of prisoners in state lock-ups fell by 0.3% in 2009, the first fall since 1972. But the total number of Americans behind bars still rose slightly, because the number of federal prisoners climbed by 3.4%.

A less punitive system could work better, argues Mark Kleiman of the University of California, Los Angeles. Swift and certain penalties deter more than harsh ones. Money spent on prisons cannot be spent on more cost-effective methods of crime-prevention, such as better policing, drug treatment or probation. The pain that punishment inflicts on criminals themselves, on their families and on their communities should also be taken into account.

"Just by making effective use of things we already know how to do, we could reasonably expect to have half as much crime and half as many people behind bars ten years from now," says Mr Kleiman. "There are a thousand excuses for failing to make that effort, but not one good reason."

PO Box 1234
860 657 8438
Hartford, CT 06143

Working to end race and class drug war injustice, Efficacy is a non profit
501 (c) 3 organization founded in 1997. Your gifts and donations are tax

See related:

Clifford Thornton War on Drugs