Goodness. It has taken a libertarian Republican to point out the great racial disparities in drug sentences that routinely happen in the United States.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about federal sentencing guidelines. The mandatory minimum sentences have a disproportionate impact on minorities, Paul claimed.
“There is no justice here,” Paul said, according to the Associated Press. “It is wrong and it needs to change… Each case should be judged on its own merits. Mandatory minimums prevent this from happening.”
Where have the Democrats been on this issue? After all, aren’t they the ones who usually receive 90 percent of African American votes? Yet rarely do they point out how the “War on Drugs” has been used as an excuse to warehouse African American males in prisons.
Proposed Congressional legislation would give judges greater latitude and wider discretion in sentencing, which could relieve prison overcrowding and reduce the cost taxpayers spend on prisons.
As reported at the huffingtonpost.com, a 2009 report by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch shows that blacks are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites. This is despite the fact that white Americans are more likely than black Americans to have used most kinds of illegal drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and LSD and other hallucinogens. For example, almost 20 percent of whites have used cocaine, compared with 10 percent of blacks and Latinos, according to a 2011 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are now more than 218,000 federal prisoners, up from about 25,000 in the 1980s, when many of the mandatory penalties for drug possession were put into place. Of the 225,242 people who were serving time in state prisons for drug offenses in 2011, blacks comprised 45 percent of the total and whites made up just 30 percent. In California, black adults represent one-quarter of all felony drug arrests, despite comprising just 5 percent of the state population and not being anywhere near 25 percent of the drug users.
The first response to drug abuse should be treatment, not jail time. Of course, it is another issue altogether if someone resorts to violence to obtain drug money or for any other reason. The violent offenders should be locked up, but nonviolent drug users should not be populating our nation’s prisons. This mass incarceration of nonviolent drug users doesn’t help the drug abuser and it isn’t a good use of money and resources.
The U.S. is not the only place where there are increasing calls for more common sense regarding drugs. An article in theguardian.com says that a top UK police chief has called for a revision in drug policy and the decriminalization of drugs in order to help drug addicts and take profit away from criminal gangs.
We also should stop requiring so many pre-employment drug screens. If someone will be operating a vehicle or interacting with the public, then a drug screen would be appropriate. But for routine office work and many other occupations, a drug screen is more an invasion of privacy than a necessity.
There are some domestic wars that have been worth fighting. The War on Poverty and the War on Cancer are two that come to mind. But the War on Drugs is no more worth pursuing than Prohibition was in the 1920s. The court system is overburdened with these cases and the mandatory minimum sentences only make things worse.