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Drug War History Leaves Costly Legacy on Justice System

by Crystal Innabi, published

Twelve percent of those arrests were for drug-related crimes, the highest fraction of any category of crimes.

Throughout the history of the drug war, state and federal law enforcement agencies have cracked down on abusers and dealers alike. During the 1960s, while conducting narcotic experimentation, the U.S. government simultaneously founded the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD).

The BNDD commissioned a study in 1969 that found a strong correlation between crime and heroin addiction. The study suggested that 44 percent of those entering the jail system in Washington, D.C. had, at one point, used heroin.

In late 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act, which established 5 schedules for regulating drugs. These schedules categorize the medicinal value of each drug as well as their individual potential for addiction.

Soon after signing the Controlled Substance Act, President Nixon declared the start of what would be known as the “War of Drugs,” declaring drug abuse as “public enemy number one.” However, during the Nixon administration, most funding toward the drug effort went to treatment rather than law enforcement.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush had appointed William Bennett as the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Bennett immediately increased the office’s spending on law enforcement and treatment, but treatment had become less than 1/3 of the total budget. The following year, President Bush Sr. authorized an increase in federal spending, which resulted in $1.2 billion being added to the budget for the war on drugs.

The significant increase in the illegal drug trade followed after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. After NAFTA was implemented, Americans saw a vast increase in illegal narcotics passing U.S. Customs inspections. These drugs were hidden sporadically in the high volume of legitimate goods passing through the U.S.-Mexican border.

Criminal justice systems are spending $56 billion annually on containing illicit drug use, while U.S. prisons are overflowing with drug-addicted inmates (1 in 2 prisoners are addicts) who don't receive the treatment they need. Drug courts are appearing across the country helping to provide different options to traditional court systems, trying to find a balance between criminal justice and treatment.

Those who choose this alternative court are able to receive treatment as well as other services geared toward the participant “staying clean”. They are also randomly and regularly susceptible to drug tests, as well as required to appear in court where a judge continuously reviews his or her progress. Unlike traditional court systems, the individual is rewarded for his or her success in the program, and are sanctioned if he or she is unable to live up to the obligations.

These courts save the average taxpayer $4,000-$12,000 per drug court participant, while saving the government an estimated $1.7 billion. These savings are estimated to reach $32.2 billion if the drug courts are used widespread.

The U.S. has a complex history when it comes to drug crimes. Nonetheless, the active war on drugs has led to a busy criminal justice system, one that has had repercussions on the American taxpayer.

drug war historySource: Online Paralegal Program 

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