October 24, 2016
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Advocates Call For Anti-Drug Policies That Focus On Prevention


Posted by Antoine Morris, civilrights.org

At a public policy forum on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, scholars and civil rights advocates urged lawmakers to treat drug use as more of a public health problem than a criminal justice issue.  

The chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., endorsed the paradigm shift, saying, "waiting for people to drop out of school, mess up, join a gang and getting into a bidding war over how much time they will serve in prison" is not as sensible or cost effective as "prevention, early intervention, and the public health approach."

Due in large part to the so-called War on Drugs, the United States has emerged as the world leader in incarceration with African Americans and Latinos disproportionately represented among 2.3 million people in prison. 

"You cannot arrest yourself out of this problem," said Kash Heed, conference panelist and former police commander in the Drug Enforcement and Gang Task Force in Vancouver, Canada, who serves as a member of the Canadian Legislative Assembly (MLA). 

study by the Pew Center on the States found an overreliance on incarceration for drug offenders resulted in marginal gains.  In Washington State, for example, the benefit-to-cost ratio for drug offenders was only 37 cents in averted crime for every one dollar invested in new prison beds. 

As one conservative legal expert noted "imprisonment rose more than crime, owing to adoption of draconian mandatory minimum sentences by state legislatures and Congress; restrictions on (and sometimes abolition of) parole; and other "tough on crime" policies," which have done little to reduce crime.  By contrast, studies have found that drug treatment, when coupled with other therapies, can reduce drug use, criminal activity, the risk of HIV infection, as well as improve job prospects.

As a result, many advocates at the conference supported a drug policy that focuses more on drug treatment and prevention, which have a proven track record of success, and de-emphasizes incarceration.  That strategy reflects an emerging consensus among drug policy experts that more attention should be paid to reducing the demand for illegal drugs rather than continuing to fail to eliminate the drug trade itself or simply imprison anyone associated with it.  

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