Marijuana Arrests Feed Insatiable U.S. Prison System
America prides itself for being a leader in many things as a nation but one statistic that we should not be proud of is the fact that the United States, the “land of the free”, imprisons more people than any other country on the planet, including China! The U.S. has over 2.3 million people behind bars while China, with 4 times the population has only 1.6 million. That’s right, with only 5% of the world’s population the U.S. incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners and people are imprisoned for things like writing bad checks and drug use that wouldn’t even get a prison sentence in many countries.
The United States ranks number one in incarceration rates as well, which is the number of people imprisoned per 100,000 people in a given country. The U.S. has 751 people incarcerated per 100,000 while Russia, the industrialized nation closest in rank , has only 627 per 100k. In other countries it is far lower, with England at 151, Germany at 88, and Japan at only 63!
The incarceration rates of prisoners in the U.S. stayed about the same for half a century from 1925 to 1975 at about 110 per 100,000 people. Then, coinciding with the war on drugs the rate began to shoot up dramatically (These numbers do not include those held in jails, since comprehensive information on those incarcerated in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)
The drug war is the major reason for the rapid increase in incarceration rates as well as the increase in violent crime. European authorities look upon the United States with contempt and Vivien Stern of King’s College said ”The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism.”
According to a report released in December of 2008 from the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in state and federal prisons are over 600,000. In 2007 parole and probation violations accounted for a third of new prison admissions and while we have no exact numbers on how many are drug offense related you can be sure the number is high. Since 2000, the number of americans behind bars increased by 15%, while during the same period the US population increased by only 6.4%.
“According to the US Department of Justice, 30-40 percent of all current prison admissions involve crimes that have no direct or obvious victim other than the perpetrator,” the report shows. “The drug category constitutes the largest offense category, with 31 percent of all prison admissions resulting from such crimes.” Nearly a third of all prison admissions are from non violent drug offenses!
In 2007 the Department of Justice reported that there were 1,841,182 drug arrests in the United States; the report also stated that there were more drug abuse arrests than any other category of offenses. Marijuana arrests accounted for 47.4% of the drug abuse arrests. This allows us to estimate that about 872,720 persons were arrested for marijuana offenses. Eighty-nine percent of these arrests were for possession. The 2007 arrest data is even worse than 2006 when 829,627 people were arrested for marijuana (a Project Censored’s top 25 story in 2008). In 2005 there were 786,545 marijuana arrests, meaning that the number of arrests increased by 86K in just two years. Clearly, marijuana is an intense focus of police interest and activity; far more, apparently, than the less important crimes occurring at the same time on Wall Street.
The website of theMarijuana Policy Project notes that: “Federal government figures indicate there are more than 41,000 Americans in state or federal prison on marijuana charges right now, not including those in county jails. That’s more than the number imprisoned on all charges combined in eight individual European Union countries.”
There is no justification for this Drug War, especially the war on cannabis from a public health standpoint. If you want to read a true account on the medical benefits and uses of cannabis read the 1999 Institute of Medicine book - Marijuana and Medicine - which is available for free at the National Academies Press.
For young americans arrests for marijuana offenses can have very dire consequences. In the United States drug convictionsbar students from receiving any Federal Student Loans. This is a another policy that preferentially impacts on working class and minority communities.
The time has come to put and end to this drug war and free ALL non violent offenders in county, state, and federal jails and prisons. Stop putting people behind bars who are harming no one and instead focus the efforts of law enforcement on violent crime which is where it should be in the first place. How many more rapists, murderers, and pedophiles could be kept off the streets if law enforcement was focused there instead of busting the college kid for a couple of joints?
Great resources for more articles on the Drug War and more: