Police Courts and Corrections According to Merrill essay

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Police Courts and Corrections

According to Merrill and Fox (1999) the total impact of substance abuse on Federal entitlement programs is more than $77 billion. This constitutes in excess of $66 billion directly associated with substance abuse. Further, the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on substance abuse would accounts for nearly 10% of total Federal spending (Merrill and Fox, 1999). The cost of drug use affects the entire criminal justice system, overburdening current resources at each stage of the arrest, adjudication, incarceration, and post-release supervision process (National Drug Threat Assessment, 2010).

Clearly, police are not equipped to "fight crime" as they are legislatively required to do. Further, the conflicts between state and federal law enforcement components are an unnecessary impedance to effective law enforcement efforts. The importance of effecting change through the various state legislatures, as well as compelling the Federal government to change certain laws according to public desire may help assuage the effects of differing laws governing state and Federal mandates. As previously mentioned, one such change that could effectively reduce the workload of state and Federal police is the eradication of marijuana restrictions in America. There simply are no justifiable reasons to continue restricting marijuana in the United States.

Consequently, I propose legislatively streamlining state and federal laws governing the possession and use of marijuana. Police should not be responsible for enforcing laws that are specifically designed to curb what so many individuals, regardless of legality, desire.

The war on drugs has been an utter failure by all measures. The effects that the war on drugs has had on America's citizens, prisons, and finances are devastating. With nearly millions of Americans reporting some drug use in the prior year, it is clear that government should not attempt to regulate that which so many people in the United States choose to do. With both alcohol and cigarette related deaths calculated to be in excess of hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, it is time that American legislators develop workable solutions to address drug use in America. The authority of the legal system and that of the legislative process is severely undermined by attempts to criminalize some drugs, but not others, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine. Degenhardt et al. (2008, pg. 1065) observe that "Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones."

In 2007, there were 1,841,182 drug law violation arrests, representing an increase of 460.2% since 1973. However, by 2009, arrests for drug law violations decreased by 2.3% to 1,663,582 (2007 Crime in the United States, 2008). However, there were 1,427,494 arrests for alcohol-related violations in 2007. Legislators and other politically minded individuals must reconsider the impact that criminalization of marijuana has on our police forces, on our court systems, and, perhaps most importantly, on our correctional facilities. We can no longer continue to fight a "war" that so many of our citizens wage against.

MacCoun and Reuter (2001) found that, in reviewing the impacts of decriminalization efforts in the Netherlands, United States, Australia and Italy, decriminalization appears to warrant slight, though positive, impacts. The primary benefit in decriminalization efforts MacCoun and Reuter (2001) suggest is the decreased pressure on the criminal justice system components; from law enforcement efforts and prosecutorial costs associated with trials, as well as a decreased burden on correctional facilities.

Clearly, the war on drugs has been costly and, by significant measures, a dismal failure. The costs associated with fighting the "war on drugs" exceed $46 billion per year (National Drug Control Strategy, 2001). With the astronomical costs associated with identifying, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating individuals for drug related offenses, along with a struggling economy and an overall frustration in the criminal justice system, it seems incumbent upon legislators, regardless of political affiliation, to begin, in earnest, studying alternative methods to address the problems involved with drug addiction.

The commonly leveraged claim by those opposing all forms of drug legalization, namely that decriminalizing drugs will have adverse societal impacts and create more problems with drug addiction, is largely marginalized by Portugal's decriminalization efforts. Further, the "war on drugs" undermines respect for law enforcement efforts. The effect of decriminalization, beyond that of simple reduction in overall drug use, can actually help alleviate the ancillary social problems such as reduction in communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, but can lower morbidity rates. It behooves legislators and concerned citizens to analyze the data concerning decriminalization efforts in today's free American society.

Courts are not equipped to handle the cases that inevitably come before them. Changes in legislation can help ameliorate the over-burdening of courts and the entire judicial system. By eliminating such discriminatory sentencing disparities such as

The correctional component of our American system of justice is overburdened as evidenced by crowded prisons throughout the country. According to the annual report published by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, as of January, 2010, there were 1,404,053 individuals under state prison jurisdiction. This .3% drop from the year prior marks the first year-to-year drop in the state prison population since 1972 (Pew Center, 2010).

Clearly, we, as a nation, tend to incarcerate beyond what is needed. Fully 25% of all prisoners in the world are incarcerated in the United States of America, while fully two-thirds of the prison population is either African-American or Latino (Patton, 2009). Irwin, Schiraldi and Ziedenberg (2010) observe that the majority of these incarcerated are non-violent offenders. Why? Because we incarcerate for drug offenses that do not amount to great social harms. I believe that by limiting incarceration to those offenders who pose a real and significant danger to society; rapists, murders, child molesters and the like, we can significantly limit the attendant costs associated with incarceration and provide for some meaningful rehabilitation for those offenders who need it most.

With approximately 5% of the total population on Earth, The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the history of the world. Criminologists and sociologists suggest that a social mechanism, conflict theory, can partly explain the differentiated incarceration rates among the various races as well explain the different sentences imposed for convicted criminals; blue collar crimes are more heavily punished than so called white collar crimes. With these differences, it is important to better understand and analyze the concomitant effects that differentiated sentences among American prisoners have on society.

Nearly one quarter of all prisoners in the world are incarcerated in the United States of America, while fully two-thirds of the prison population is either African-American or Latino (Patton, 2009). The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics provides recent data concerning the demographic information on prisoner's in the United States. According to The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (2010), the imprisonment rate has grown steadily with about 150 offenders per 100,000 people incarcerated in 1980 to over 500 per 100,000 people incarcerated in prisons by 2008. Similarly, Western (2007) observes that from 1925 to 1975, American prisons incarcerated about 100 out of every 100,000 U.S. residents. However, from 1975 to 2005, the imprisonment rate increased to over 500 per 100,000, constituting a 500% increase from prior years.

Patton (2009) notes that by 2007, 2.3 million prisoners were incarcerated in either federal or state prisons and jails, while over 1.5 million people were under some form of state or federal supervision. The Federal Bureau of Prisons alone now imprisons over 200,000 people, with nearly 24,000 prisoners in federal prisons sentenced for drug violations.

Further, when combined, the total number of inmates in either state of federal prisons has increased 700% from 1970 to 2007. In 1970, there were less than 200,000 prisoners in either state or federal penal institutions. However, by 2007, there were 1,518,535 prisoners in either state or federal prisons and jails, with an additional 780,581 local jail prisoners (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010). When combined, this shows that fully 1 out of every 131 people living in the United States is incarcerated (Western, 2007).

However, these statistics do little to tell of the differentiated incarceration rates of various races and between genders. For example, while only 1.7% of the total population of white males between the ages of 25-29 is in prison or jail, 1 out of every 28 Hispanic males between 25-29 and fully 1 in 10 black males in the same age cohort is imprisoned in America (Patton, 2007). The same differences are present regarding gender; while 957 out of every 100,000 men in America are incarcerated, females constitute a much lower population with only 69 per 100,000 females incarcerated in America by 2008 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010).

Patton (2007) observes that of the total population incarcerated in state prisons, 82% have been convicted of non-violent crimes; 34% for drug offenses, and 29% for property crimes. Further, by 2008 over 7.3 million people are on some form of either…[continue]

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