“The solution to our drug problem is not in incarceration.” — Gen. Barry McCaffrey.
It seems almost every day someone gets busted in Nevada County for drugs. In a perfect world, no one would ever want to abuse drugs. However, that’s pure fantasy, not reality. Users possess a proclivity toward escapism, and recreational drugs mean partying. Whatever other reasons that may exist for abusing drugs, it is obvious the use of illegal drugs (narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens and so on) is on the rise.
The evidence is irrefutable. Courts are inundated with drug-related cases. Even the number of drug-crime prisoners is up. Nearly half of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug-related crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. America has fallen victim to another drug epidemic.
America’s drug laws aren’t working. Despite efforts to end illegal drug use, it continues unabated. Laws have been enacted to eliminate drug abuse, but drug laws only criminalize large segments of the population. For years, drug criminalization (prohibition) increased incarceration rates substantially. In fact, of California’s more than 119,000 inmates, about 20 percent are serving time for drug-related offenses, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Due to 2011’s Assembly Bill 109 and AB 117, which reduce the number of inmates in California’s 33 state prisons, certain low-level drug criminals will be (and have been) released to eliminate prison overcrowding. The anti-overcrowding order emanated from the Supreme Court.
The court’s ruling was designed to remedy extremely inadequate health care, mistreatment and substandard rehabilitation throughout California’s deplorable state prisons. Jail terms have already been “suspended” for various inmates convicted of minor drug-related crimes.
“Realignment” realigns low-level prisoners by transferring responsibility for supervising those convicted of light felonies to California’s 58 counties. A big fear the public has is that realignment is releasing nefarious convicts. After all, freed dangerous drug criminals compromise societal safety.
Tackling crime was part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s message to crime victims and their families at the State Capitol on April 23. He told the huge rally he was being squeezed by federal judges, who were demanding he lower the state prison population by 10,000 inmates. (30,000 were required to leave.) If Brown didn’t comply, the federal courts would have held him in contempt, he said.
Under a plan Gov. Brown desperately filed on May 2 to save himself from imprisonment, California seeks to reduce inmates’ sentences using private prisons, among other actions, to meet the court-ordered population cap by the end of 2013. (9,300 convicts remain, as of this writing.)
Nevertheless, why do users commit crimes? Basically, many users break the law in order to obtain money to buy drugs. In fact, according to Wikipedia, one out of every five state and federal prisoners admitted that they committed their offenses to get money for drugs. Substance abuse can lead to crime and vice versa.
Drugs increase the likelihood of crime due to their nature and situations. Certain drug amounts and types affect the psyche in such a way that crime becomes almost certain. For example, people who use dope in combinations — such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine — tend to commit more crime than those who use pot and barbiturates.
The solution? More of the same policies. Stop the illegal importation of drugs from other countries; arrest people who sell and manufacture illegal drugs in this country; continue to provide drug treatment programs for drug users; educate Americans about the dangers of using drugs; terminate drug production — mostly controlled by drug cartels, organized crime and gangs — which increases not only demand, but also prices and crime; and continue the policy of arresting those driving under the influence of drugs. Besides being socially unacceptable and costly, driving while on illegal drugs has caused countless injuries and deaths in America.
Many advocates argue that the answer to reducing drug crimes is legalization (decriminalization). Yet, on the other hand, drug opponents argue that stricter enforcement can prevent more drug-related crime from occurring. Whichever view one holds, the fact remains that reducing drug use/addiction leads to a corresponding reduction in drug-related crime. (Incidentally, Obama believes drug abuse is a health problem best dealt with through education, prevention and treatment.)
Therefore, drugs and crime appear intertwined. Sound public policies result from understanding the intricate drug-crime correlations. However, it’s difficult, when considering the different ways in which drugs and crime are interrelated, to envision how changes in policy will play out. Nevertheless, understanding any drug-crime dynamic is a monumental step in the right direction.
David Briceno lives in Grass Valley.