The Drug War, The War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration, The Crack Epidemic. For most of us these are familiar terms that have been introduced to us through the media, film, literature, and even during political debates. However, when questioned about their significance, meaning, or the underlying causes of these practices, most of us merely pretend to understand, or are completely ignorant.
The reality is we are incarcerating our own people at epidemic proportions. In fact, our rate of incarceration is so high that the Government has had to outsource its duties to private contractors; which in turn has created one of the fastest growing industries today, the private prison industry. Since Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971 the prison population has exponentially increased. The NAACP reports that from 1980 to 2008, the prison population quadrupled from about 500,000 to 2.3 million (NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet). Another report indicates that from 1972 to 2007 our country's imprisonment rate has more than quintupled, increasing from 93 to 491 per 100,000 people.
Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow, tells us that the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country, “dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran”. In addition, the laws enacted during Nixon's and Reagan's administrations to bolster the War on Drugs have disproportionately affected African Americans. During the 1950s about one-third of prisoners were black Americans. In the late 1980s, “coinciding with the most aggressive years of the war on drugs, blacks were 45-48 percent of inmates”. In 2005 blacks who constituted 12.8 percent of the population, constituted nearly 50 percent of prison inmates and 42 percent of those on death row. .
Both the increase in the incarceration rate and the increase in racial disparity can be attributed in large part to the war on drugs. In fact, drug arrests have tripled since 1980 and account for around two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and for more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000. There's also a large racial disparity that is not a result of a higher rate of drug crime among blacks as reports have showed that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at extremely similar rates. However, despite this, in some states black men are twenty to fifty times more likely to go to prison on drug charges than white men.
Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Drug War has been a complete and utter failure. This past week Jay-Z teamed up with artist Molly Crabapple and the NY Times as an Op-ed contributor in order to address and detail the atrocities and failings of our Government's War on Drugs in a visual piece called "The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail." Check it out below:
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New, 2010. Print.
Tonry, Michael, and Matthew Melewski. "The Malign Effects of Drug and Crime Control Policies on Black Americans." Chicago Journal 37 (2008): 1-44. JSTOR. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/588492 .>.