Friday, June 17, 2011

Thanks to War on Drugs, U.S. is World's #1 Jailer

This is a post to recognize the 40th anniversary of the day in 1971 that President Nixon declared that the U.S. government would start waging a "War on Drugs" war on peaceful Americans who chose to use intoxicants not approved of by the U.S. government (HT: Don B.).

Q: Which repressive country puts the most people in jail for violating government laws? 

A. Iran
B. Saudi Arabia
C. Libya
D. Egypt
E. United States of America

Well, it's not even close..............

World Rank, 2010CountryPrisoners per 100,000 Population
#1U.S.A.743
 37Tunisia297
52Turkmenistan224
53Iran223
61Libya200
61Mexico200
69Colombia180
70Saudi Arabia178
92Bahrain149
116China120
126Venezuela114
137Iraq101
140Ethiopia98
150Egypt89
156Yemen83
185Syria58
187Afghanistan56
198Sudan45
198Pakistan45

The table above shows how the 2010 U.S. prison incarceration rate (prisoners per 100,000 population) compares to some of the roughest countries in the world.  The full list of 216 countries is here, the countries above were selected as some of the world's most repressive regimes (Iran, Saudi Arabia and Libya), some of the world's least economically free countries (Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, according to the Heritage Foundation), and some countries with the biggest narco-terrorism problems (Colombia and Mexico).  

But none of them even come close to the incarceration rate of the World's #1 Jailer - the United States, largely because of the "War on Drugs" war against peaceful Americans using intoxicants currently not approved of by the U.S. government (see chart below).  
 

Note that in the full list of countries, neighboring Canada ranks #124 (117 prisoners per 100,000), and countries with liberalized drug laws like Portugal rank #128 (112 per 100,000) and Netherlands ranks #145 (94 per 100,000).   

Update: AIG claims that "There is ZERO evidence that this greater number of prisoners in the U.S. is due to the war on drugs." Here is some evidence:

1. "A major cause of such high numbers of prisoners in the United States system is that it has much longer sentences than any other part of the world. The typical mandatory sentence for a first-time drug offense in federal court is five or ten years, compared to other developed countries around the world where a first time offense would warrant at most 6 months in jail.  Mandatory sentencing prohibits judges from using their discretion and forces them to place longer sentences on nonviolent offenses than they normally would have."

2. "One of the biggest contributors to the United States' spike is the war on drugs. Around 1980, the United States had 40,000 people in prison for drug crimes. After the passage of Reagan's Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, incarceration for non-violent offenses dramatically increased. Part of the legislation included the implementation of mandatory minimum sentences for "the distribution of cocaine, including far more severe punishment for distribution of crack—associated with blacks—than powder cocaine, associated with whites."

Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, users of powder cocaine can possess up to 100 times more substance than users of crack, while facing the same mandatory sentence.  The Anti-Drug Act targeted low-level street dealers, which had a disproportionate effect on poor blacks, Latinos, the young, and women.

The United States houses over 500,000 prisoners for these crimes. Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance said, "We now imprison more people for drug law violations than all of Western Europe (with a much larger population) incarcerates for all offenses."

35 Comments:

At 6/17/2011 9:03 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Q: Which aggressive country has been most successful catching criminals?

A. Iran
B. Saudi Arabia
C. Libya
D. Egypt
E. United States of America

Well, it's not even close..............

 
At 6/17/2011 9:14 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

I think you mean successful at putting innocent Americans in jail for engaging in "victimless criminal activity."

 
At 6/17/2011 9:52 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

I'd rather see more success in job creation:

IMF cuts U.S. growth forecast, warns of crisis
Jun 17, 2011

Revised IMF Forecast:

"U.S. gross domestic product would grow an anemic 2.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2012."

 
At 6/17/2011 10:02 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

"Intoxicants"?

What does this classification include? Anything from marijuana to Ecstasy?

Personally, I believe in the de-criminalizaton of marijuana.

There are many other substances that people will lie, cheat, steal or kill for. Most drug related convictions are probably for felonies committed in supporting a drug habit. Then, there is the human cost of the family members affected by the hard drug addict.

An effective means of dealing with hard drug addicts are Drug Courts. Sentencing can be manadtory treatmment with minimal, if any, incarceration.

I hope Don B. and others consider the range of drugs available and the consequences , that often result in crime victims to support addiction.

 
At 6/17/2011 10:14 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

buddy-

i think that the "crime to support a drug habit" story is just anecdotal alarmism as opposed to fact.

most of the crimes around drugs have to do with distribution, not funding habits.

drunk bums steal to buy beer too, but it's just not a massive issue, just a nuisance.

regardless, why would legalizing drugs intensify that in any way?

drug courts are definitely a better option than regular courts, but why have them at all?

this is only a crime because we say it is.

why make things people do in their own homes illegal in the first place.

 
At 6/17/2011 10:28 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

"most of the crimes around drugs have to do with distribution, not funding habits."

This comment could indicate a cloistered life. I suggest your next trek might include Compton or Baltimore. Ask the people on the street if they have been robbed. Then, visit the local public health hospital to observe babies being rocked night and day as they have crack eased out.

 
At 6/17/2011 10:49 AM, Blogger Che is dead said...

“For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” -- H.L. Mencken


"victimless criminal activity."

Victimless?

Drug abuse plays a major role in most child abuse cases. For example: In Philadelphia, cocaine is implicated in half of the cases in which parents beat their children to death, and in 80 percent of all abuse cases. In the nation's capital, 90 percent of reported child abusers are also illicit drug abusers. [Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice]

"most of the crimes around drugs have to do with distribution, not funding habits."

Most of the "crimes around drugs" are committed by people under the influence of drugs.

"Six times as many homicides are committed by people under the influence of drugs, as by those who are looking for money to buy drugs. Most drug crimes aren’t committed by people trying to pay for drugs; they’re committed by people on drugs." [Source: U.S. Dept of Justice]

"Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3 percent of all American adults!"

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We've heard it all before. Meanwhile, in the U.K., it turns out that a little more than 15 percent of the population have a criminal record. How does Jimmy explain that?

"According to official figures a total of 9.2 million people in the UK have criminal records ...

UK Telegraph

 
At 6/17/2011 10:51 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

The problem with drug addiction is it robs you of your free will not to take drugs.

It can spin out of control.

For example, there are over 10 million alcoholics in the U.S., who are essentially slaves to alcohol.

 
At 6/17/2011 11:25 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

buddy-

"This comment could indicate a cloistered life. I suggest your next trek might include Compton or Baltimore"

i have lived in new haven, providence, new york, and san francisco.

i still think you are being overly alarmist and ignoring obvious comparables.


you seem to be taking a few extreme examples and vastly overstating their representation.

most drug crime involves distribution, not purchase (at least this was true in SF, the captain of our local police station was my neighbor)

dealers get traffickers get robbed all the time because they cannot press charges. "oh, they took your drugs?"

there is certainly some theft to buy drugs, but the same can be said for liquor, or food, or whatever.

why is it you believe that such things only occur to buy drugs?

why is it you believe that legalizing drugs would increase such incidence from that that already exists?

how about the babies with fetal alcohol syndrome?

 
At 6/17/2011 12:03 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

"The problem with drug addiction is it robs you of your free will not to take drugs.

It can spin out of control."

this is a VERY dangerous line of reasoning as well as being a bit irrelevant.

alcohol and nicotine have more severe additive characteristics than essentially all illegal drugs. (you can't die from heroin withdrawl, but alcohol detox can kill you) most illegal drugs have NO physically addictive characteristics. pot, extacy, and all psychedelics fall into that category. by your logic, we should legalize them long before liquor.

but what's really dangerous is describing such people as having lost free will. that is not the case at all. even with a gun to your head, you have free will. it may affect your perception of your choices, but it does not eliminate your free will.

to make such a claim makes them both not responsible and not enfranchised.

robbed of free will, criminal acts are not deliberate. i doubt you would want to create such a standard.

further, if drug addiction can take away free will, then what else could be construed to do so? pregnant women get intense mood swings. do they lack free will?

how about people who are depressed, or sex addicts?

these are not losses of free will. any of these people has the will to chose. they may suffer different consequences from doing so, but that's not the same thing at all.

 
At 6/17/2011 12:04 PM, Blogger Mike said...

At least, if there was some legalization, the people buying would finally be paying for some of the social costs through taxes.

I don't think there's any doubt that legalization would make it harder for kids to buy....not sure if that's good or bad.

 
At 6/17/2011 12:12 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Oh, I forgot one thing.
If you'd like to compete with many of the countries on this list with smaller prison populations, do what most of them do, stone people to death rather than jailing them.

 
At 6/17/2011 12:35 PM, Blogger DL said...

Lotta vested interests in the drug war.

DEA agents, bureaucrats, prosecutors, defense lawyers, prison employees, etc.

Then again, we can only run a deficit of $1.6T for so long before something has to get cut.

 
At 6/17/2011 1:08 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

The return on investment from prevention and treatment may be much higher, for society, than the return from legalization and social acceptance.

Factors, e.g. lost productivity and earnings, more health care, job and auto accidents, family and fire destruction, etc., should be included.

"Few people initiate drug use after age twenty-nine, the most effective way to curtail consumption in all segments of the population may be to prevent initiation and consumption among youths and young adults."

 
At 6/17/2011 1:12 PM, Blogger geoih said...

Quote from Che is dead: "Drug abuse plays a major role in most child abuse cases."

Isn't child abuse already a crime? By this same logic you can come up with all manner of reason to ban things (e.g., gun control).

 
At 6/17/2011 1:24 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Few people initiate drug use after age twenty-nine, the most effective way to curtail consumption in all segments of the population may be to prevent initiation and consumption among youths and young adults."

Wow! what a novel idea. I wonder why no one has thought of that before?

LOL

 
At 6/17/2011 1:27 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"you can't die from heroin withdrawl"...

ROFLMAO!

Oh my!

 
At 6/17/2011 1:32 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

"The return on investment from prevention and treatment may be much higher, for society, than the return from legalization and social acceptance.

Factors, e.g. lost productivity and earnings, more health care, job and auto accidents, family and fire destruction, etc., should be included."

i think you have this backwards.

people are already using drugs. we face these costs already.

eliminating the drug war will save money on enforcement, interdiction, courts, incarceration, and likely also on health.

pharmaceutical quality drugs cause far fewer OD's and bad reactions that are essentially poisoning.

add to that the tax revenues from taxing the drugs, and you are WAY ahead.

this productivity cost you cite already exists as the drugs are already being used. ever go to work hungover? how was that any different. accidents etc are exactly the same.

you'd need to believe it would get MUCH worse for it to be an issue. there is ZERO evidence that that happens.

if no drugs at all were used now, your arguments might be valid, but given current widespread use, they are meaningless.

your argument could also be used even more convincingly to support bringing back prohibition and banning smoking.

all other drugs combined do not even approach the health, accident, social, and productivity losses of those 2.

do you support banning booze and smokes?

if not, how can you claim to have a consistent position based on costs?

 
At 6/17/2011 2:33 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"add to that the tax revenues from taxing the drugs, and you are WAY ahead"...

Sure sounds like the argument that state uses for foisting off lottery onto a state's citizens...

"we'll use the lotto money for eduation" goes the sale pitch...

 
At 6/17/2011 2:45 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

I hate to say this, but long-term incarceration of criminal elements --far more effectively than larger and expensive unionized police departments--reduces crime.

The USA has reduced crime a lot in the last 20 years. I would like to make sure the druggies, when they get out, even with legal drugs, do not turn to crime.

That said, drugs should be legal. The War on Drugs, like the War on Poverty and the War on Terror, are intended to perpetuate federal military and civilian agencies, and the gaggle of grifters attached thereto.

 
At 6/17/2011 3:10 PM, Blogger Orion said...

I fall decidedly towards legalization of illegal drugs. And there is no doubt that far too many people are incarcerated in the US. But-the numbers on that list are crazy and probably compiled by a decidedly biased UN office. East Timor has only 20 people per 100K in prison. East Timor? Syria has 58 per 100K? C'mon.

There is a political payoff for some elements to make the US look bad any way that they can.

 
At 6/17/2011 4:14 PM, OpenID Sprewell said...

I think PeakTrader is arguing for alcohol prohibition. That is the only logical conclusion from his statement that "there are over 10 million alcoholics in the U.S., who are essentially slaves to alcohol," and that all other similarly addictive drugs must thus be banned.

Che, you are using some warped arguments that I suspect you would not accept were it on another issue, like Ron points out with gun control. Something to consider.

Benjie, those unionized police departments probably cost about the same as the prison guard unions, so it's not like you're saving a bunch by just sticking them in unionized jails. The prison unions have put big money against sentencing reform in the past. Make drugs legal and you can cut both unions out of the budget, that's the whole point.

 
At 6/17/2011 7:16 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Morganovich, what makes you believe legalizing drugs and making them socially acceptable won't increase consumption?

More people use legal alcohol than all the illegal drugs combined.

More people use legal tobacco than all the illegal drugs combined.

More people use legal drugs than all the illegal drugs combined.

If the legal speed limit is raised from 70 MPH to 80 MPH, do you believe the number of people driving above 70 MPH will remain constant?

Sprewell, would you prefer more or fewer alcoholics?

 
At 6/17/2011 7:23 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

The war on drugs may actually be working.

Without the war on drugs, millions of more Americans could be illegal drug users.

 
At 6/17/2011 7:54 PM, OpenID Sprewell said...

PeakTrader, consumption may go up, though that may depend on how it's measured. Do you measure total drugs consumed, even though it may just be the same people consuming more; number of people who tried the legalized drugs, even though most might not continue partaking; or total recurring users? I'd argue that only the third measure matters. Even if it goes up, I think that cost is worth the benefits of a freer society and paying much less for guns, cops, and prison guards. The question isn't whether people will drive faster if the speed limit is raised to 80 mph, the question is whether such a limit makes sense in the first place, now that modern cars are much safer than the ones on the road when that limit was instituted. I honestly could care less whether there are more or less alcoholics, as long as I don't have to pay for their treatment/welfare and they were deterred from getting on the road drunk by stringent penalties for such crimes.

 
At 6/17/2011 8:53 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Sprewell, if the war on drugs costs society $25 billion and illegal drug use costs society $200 billion, then it may be cheaper to keep a lid on drug use.

 
At 6/17/2011 9:52 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Q: Which aggressive country has been most successful catching criminals?

A. Iran
B. Saudi Arabia
C. Libya
D. Egypt
E. United States of America

Well, it's not even close..............


I think that you are confused. There should not be any such thing as a victimless crime in a free society.

 
At 6/18/2011 2:54 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Without the war on drugs, millions of more Americans could be illegal drug users."

There appears to be an assumption here that there are a large number of people who would start using various drugs if they were only legal. I don't believe this is true. Ask yourself if you would start using heroin if it was legal. Ask everybody you know the same question.

How many said yes?

That's what I thought. I get the same result.

 
At 6/18/2011 3:50 AM, Blogger Hyathin said...

The data in that Wikipedia page is out of date (though the differences don't have much impact on your arguments). The most current data is located at http://www.prisonstudies.org/info/worldbrief/wpb_stats.php?area=all&category=wb_poprate

 
At 6/18/2011 9:19 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Hyathin: The data are exactly the same on the International Center for Prison Studies website as on Wikipedia. But I'll add both links to the post.

 
At 6/20/2011 7:52 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Mark,

I agree with the post.

But we must take the table of per capita incarcerations with some sense of reality.

Have you ever been to some of those countries, and walked the streets of any but the main thoroughfares of the capital city?

Be prepared to fight for your life. And no, I am not exaggerating.

 
At 6/20/2011 8:03 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Have you ever been to some of those countries, and walked the streets of any but the main thoroughfares of the capital city?

Have you done that in the poor sections of Detroit? Or Washington?

 
At 6/21/2011 5:13 PM, Blogger Whiskey Jim said...

@VangeIV

I will go to a town in USA of say, 100,000 or so.

You go to a town in Mexico or Peru or Russia or Turkey, or Jamaica or India of about the same size.

Who will be safer?

Have you ever been in one of those places, I mean outside a 4 star hotel?

I have. In fact I have fought thieves in all those countries, some of them with knives. Not in the US though.

Yes, I would be stupid to go to downtown Detroit. But then, I'd be stupid to wander around in the wrong area of any large city in the world. Do you see my point yet?

 
At 6/21/2011 5:27 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

I will go to a town in USA of say, 100,000 or so.

You go to a town in Mexico or Peru or Russia or Turkey, or Jamaica or India of about the same size.

Who will be safer?


I suspect that it would depend on the town. It is hard and meaningless to make general statements based on hypotheticals.

Have you ever been in one of those places, I mean outside a 4 star hotel?

Yes I have. I used to drive my bike in a town of 125,000 people in China without any trouble at all times of the day. And while I would not enter any dark alleys at night in Cairo or Nairobi I would not do that in Detroit, St. Louis, or Chicago either.

I have. In fact I have fought thieves in all those countries, some of them with knives. Not in the US though.

I take it that you are smart enough to stay away from the bad areas of St. Louis, Detroit, or Cleveland. I saw a gun fight in Philadelphia a few years ago. It was in broad daylight and involved a burning car. I was actually going to stop because I thought that it was a movie shoot before my companions pointed out that there were no cameras around.

Yes, I would be stupid to go to downtown Detroit. But then, I'd be stupid to wander around in the wrong area of any large city in the world. Do you see my point yet?

Not really. I think that you are trying to spin a narrative. The fact is that the US has terrible drug laws that are making people less safe and are destroying the inner cities. You can't spin your way out of that observation. And just like the repeal of Prohibition the end of the Drug War would do the country some much needed good.

 
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