In 1970, President Richard Nixon responded to increasing drug problems in the United States, through the passage of a legislation known as the Comprehensive Drug Prevention and Control Act. He declared a war on drugs, and noted drugs as “America’s public enemy number one.”
After the Nixon era, the next administration that singled out drugs in America was Reagan Administration. President Ronald Reagan’s wife, Nancy Reagan played a pivotal role in the war against drugs, appearing on national television several times in an effort to provide an emotional appeal against the use of drugs. In 1986, she began what became known as the “Just Say No” campaign which spread into thousands of US schools and was the driving force behind over “12,000 “Just Say No” clubs,” according to information from the Reagan Foundation.
Despite the efforts of government in the war against drugs, “the number of state inmates grew 708% between 1972 and 2008”, and non-violent drug offenses account 47.7% of the entire prison population.
In America today, the racial distribution between inmates is severely questionable. Though black Americans make up 12% of the total US population, they “represent more than 40% of inmates” in the United States. Also, according to data from Pettit, Sykes, and Western, 24% of black children in the United States, will have experienced a parent in jail by the age of 17, and in 1980, that number has increased from 3%.
The United States media has placed a considerable amount of coverage over the past 40 years on drug policy, and the United States government too, has spent countless resources as well as an estimated $1 trillion in fighting the battle against drugs. But with over 2.3 million people in jail today, and the highest incarceration rate in the world, 753 per 100,000 people, the United States has nothing much to show for it.
Regardless of this statistics on prison population, drugs have always found their way onto the streets. Simply taking away one’s freedom has not been the answer to the US’s drug problem for 40 years. In several states, most notably California in 2011 the state government spent $9.6 billion on prison versus a mere $5.7 billion on higher education. Also, since 1980, California has built only 1 college campus versus 21 prisons in the state. Another striking fact is that California has spent $8,667 per student per year versus about $50,000 per inmate per year.
The social ramifications of overpopulating the prisons in the United States can only have a negative effect on society. It is simply stunning that in America, we rely solely on the American justice system to punish and incarcerate instead of serving justice and rehabilitate. The boom in prison over the last 40 years has led to $74 billion a year industry between state and federal government, and has opened way for one of the fastest growing industry in the US, private prisons. A report published by the Justice Policy Institute concluded that the US’s two largest prison private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America, and the GEO Group earned $2.9 billion in revenue in the year 2010. The report also states that “private prison prison companies may try to present themselves as just meetin existing ‘demand’ for prison beds and responding to current ‘market’ conditions… they have worked hard over the past decade to create markets for their product… the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration.”
The connection between increased, strict legislation against drug offenses and drastically increased number of prisoners has been made time and time again, yet this vast social problem has yet to have seen any light of improvement. The US is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s entire population, yet it houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population.
D'Almeida, kanya. "‘Profiteers of Misery’: The U.S. Private Prison Industrial Complex | NationofChange." NationofChange | Progressive Journalism for Positive Action. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <http://www.nationofchange.org/profiteers-misery-us-private-prison-industrial-complex-1314288737>.
Johnson, Robert. "11 Stunning Facts About America's Prisons - Business Insider." Business Insider. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2012. <http://www.businessinsider.com/11-facts-about-prisons-2011-7?op=1>.
Justice Policy Institute. "Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies." justicepolicy. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http:/http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/gaming_the_system_-_executive_summary.pdf>.
LIPTAK, ADAM. "Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’ - New York Times." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/us/23prison.html?pagewanted=all>.
Reagan Foundation. "REAGANFOUNDATION.ORG | NANCY REAGAN : JUST SAY NO." Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library | Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.
"Statistics on Prison Population Rates | P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc.." P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc. | Human rights from the perspective of politics, art, philosophy (hence p.a.p.), law, economics, statistics, psychology etc.. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2012. <http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/stats-on-human-rights/statistics-on-freedom/statistics-on-prisoner-population-rates/#6>.