Tuesday, August 13, 2013

US Attorney-General pulls back from the War on Drugs

In a speech to the American Bar Association, US Attorney-General Eric Holder broaches a significant admission that the War on Drugs is ineffective and unsustainable:
As we come together this morning, this same promise must lead us all to acknowledge that – although incarceration has a significant role to play in our justice system – widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable. It imposes a significant economic burden – totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone – and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate. 
As a nation, we are coldly efficient in our incarceration efforts. While the entire U.S. population has increased by about a third since 1980, the federal prison population has grown at an astonishing rate – by almost 800 percent. It’s still growing – despite the fact that federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity. Even though this country comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. More than 219,000 federal inmates are currently behind bars. Almost half of them are serving time for drug-related crimes, and many have substance use disorders.
Holder goes on to outline plans to move away from mandatory sentencing, increase compassionate release and boost drug treatment programs. It's a small enough start and runs the danger of diluting anti-prohibition campaigns - but as Holder points out, the measures appear to have cross-party support (as well as being driven by GFC-related budget cuts). You've gotta start somewhere.
Chart from the Washington Post

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