Racial Disparities and the War on Drugs Essay

Running Head: The War on Drugs The War on Drugs and Sentencing Disparities Social Policy Analysis Paper Janet Gaines Hood College Introduction This paper will examine the history of the “War on Drugs” and the racial and sentencing disparities that have resulted because of it. In the House of Representatives a new bill was introduced on January 7, 2009. Policy number H. R. 265, was cited as “Drug Sentencing reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009. The never ending drug trade and the policies that try to limit it, have far-reaching impacts in the United States and other countries. Over the last twenty years, U.

S. politicians have responded to mounting drug abuse at the local and national levels with increasingly unjustly legislation. Cooperatively, these measures have become known as the ‘War on Drugs’. In the United States, these policies have focused on the link between drug, gang activity, and crime, emphasizing punishment over treatment. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses have been put in place, leading to an explosion in the number of people incarcerated nationwide. Racial disparities in drug sentencing, particularly in crack vs. powder cocaine offenses, also stem from the ‘War on Drugs’ policy.

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The War on Drugs is a prevention campaign that was established by the United States Government with the aid of participating countries, with the intention of reducing illegal drug trade. This initiative includes a set of laws and policies that are intended to discourage the manufacturing and distribution of illegal substances. The term was first used by then President Richard Nixon in 1969. In June of, Nixon officially declares a “war on drugs,” identifying drug abuse as public enemy No. 1. Then in October of 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of, which appropriated $1. billion to fight the drug war. The bill also created mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses, which are criticized for promoting major racial disparities in the prison population because of the differences in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine. Possession of crack cocaine, which is cheaper, results in a harsher sentence; the majority of crack users are lower income minorities. Description of the problem The United States is the largest consumer of illicit drugs in the world. 2/3 of U. S. funding for drug control programs has gone to programs to limit supply, only 1/3 has gone to programs to limit demand.

The United States has spent $40 billion on drug control abroad over the last 25 years. The number of people incarcerated in the United States has increased six-fold since 1980. Drug arrests have more than tripled in the last 25 years. Drug offenders make up more than half of all federal prisoners. Nearly a half-million individuals are in prison or jail for a drug offense. Most of the drug policy debate centers around whether the war on drugs is racist. The Policy Policy number H. R. 265, this act was cited as “Drug Sentencing reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009. Section. 2 Findings Paragraph 3, of the policy; Congress found that one of the primary objectives of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which recognized different mandatory minimum penalties for different drugs, was to target Federal law enforcement and prosecutors resources on serious and major drug traffickers. •Paragraph 4. states that in 1986, Congress linked mandatory minimum penalties to different drug quantities, which were intended to serve as alternatives for identifying offenders who were “serious” drug traffickers (managers of retail drug trafficking) and `major’ traffickers (manufacturers or the kingpins who headed drug organizations). Paragraph 6. Partly because Congress believed that crack cocaine had distinctive properties that made it instantly addictive, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established an enormous disparity in the quantities of powder and crack cocaine that trigger 5- and 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. This disparity permeates the Sentencing Guidelines. •Paragraph 10. Studies comparing usage of powder and crack cocaine have shown that there is little difference between the two forms of the drug and fundamentally undermine the current quantity-based sentencing disparity. •Paragraph 10. E) The current 100 to 1 penalty structure undermines various congressional objectives set forth in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Data collected by the United States Sentencing Commission show that Federal resources have been targeted at offenders who are subject to the mandatory minimum sentences, which sweep in low-level crack cocaine users and dealers. •Paragraph 11. In 1988, Congress set a mandatory minimum sentence for mere possession of crack cocaine, the only controlled substance for which there is a mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession for a first-time offender. Paragraph 12. Major drug traffickers and kingpins traffic in powder, not crack. •Paragraph 13. Contrary to Congress’s objective of focusing Federal resources on drug kingpins, the majority of Federal powder and crack cocaine offenders are those who perform low level functions in the supply chain. •Paragraph 14. As a result of the low-level drug quantities that trigger lengthy mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine, the concentration of lower level Federal offenders is particularly pronounced among crack cocaine offenders, more than half of whom were street level dealers in 2005. Paragraph 15. The Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Homeland Security are the agencies with the greatest capacity to investigate, prosecute, and dismantle the highest level of drug trafficking organizations, but investigations and prosecutions of low-level offenders divert Federal personnel and resources from the prosecution of the highest-level traffickers, for which such agencies are best suited. •Paragraph 16.

The unwarranted sentencing disparity not only overstates the relative harmfulness of the two forms of the drug and diverts Federal resources from high-level drug traffickers, but it also disproportionately affects the African-American community. According to the United States Sentencing Commission’s May 2007 Report, 82 percent of Federal crack cocaine offenders sentenced in 2006 were African-American, while 8 percent were Hispanic and 8 percent were White. •Paragraph 17.

Only 13 States have sentencing laws that distinguish between powder and crack cocaine. Section. 3. Cocaine sentencing disparity elimination. (a) CSA- Section 401(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U. S. C. 841(b)(1)) is amended– (1) in subparagraph (A)(iii), by striking `50 grams’ and inserting `5 kilograms’; and (2) in subparagraph (B)(iii), by striking `5 grams’ and inserting `500 grams. ‘ (b) Import and Export Act- Section 1010(b) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.

S. C. 960(b)) is amended– (1) in paragraph (1)(C), by striking `50 grams’ and inserting `5 kilograms’; and (2) in paragraph (2)(C), by striking `5 grams’ and inserting `500 grams’. Section. 4. Elimination of mandatory minimum for simple possession. Section 404(a) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U. S. C. 844(a)) is amended by striking the sentence beginning `notwithstanding the preceding sentence,’ Section. 5. Increased emphasis on certain aggravating and mitigating factors.

Pursuant to its authority under section 994 of title 28, United States Code, the United States Sentencing Commission shall review and, if appropriate, amend the sentencing guidelines to ensure that the penalties for an offense involving trafficking of a controlled substance– (1) provide tiered enhancements for the involvement of a dangerous weapon or violence, including, if appropriate– (A) an enhancement for the use or brandishment of a dangerous weapon; (B) an enhancement for the use, or threatened use, of violence; and (C) any other enhancement the Commission considers necessary; (2) adequately take into account the culpability of the defendant and the role of the defendant in the offense, including consideration of whether enhancements should be added, either to the existing enhancements for aggravating role or otherwise, that take into account aggravating factors associated with the offense, including– (A) whether the defendant committed the offense as part of a pattern of criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood; (B) whether the defendant is an organizer or leader of drug trafficking activities involving five or more persons; (C) whether the defendant maintained an establishment for the manufacture or distribution of the controlled substance; (D) whether the defendant distributed a controlled substance to an individual under the age of 21 years of age or to a pregnant woman; (E) whether the defendant involved an individual under the age of 18 years or a pregnant woman in the offense; (F) whether the defendant manufactured or distributed the controlled substance in a location described in section 409(a) or section 419(a) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U. S. C. 849(a) or 860(a)); (G) whether the defendant bribed, or attempted to bribe, a Federal, State, or local law enforcement officer in connection with the offense; (H) whether the defendant was involved in importation into the United States of a ontrolled substance; (I) whether bodily injury or death occurred in connection with the offense; (J) whether the defendant committed the offense after previously being convicted of a felony controlled substances offense; and (K) any other factor the Commission considers necessary; and (3) adequately take into account mitigating factors associated with the offense, including– (A) whether the defendant had minimum knowledge of the illegal enterprise; (B) whether the defendant received little or no compensation in connection with the offense; (C) whether the defendant acted on impulse, fear, friendship, or affection when the defendant was otherwise unlikely to commit such an offense; and (D) whether any maximum base offense level should be established for a defendant who qualifies for a mitigating role adjustment (Thomas Library of Congress) Critical Analysis The war on drugs has become a war on families, a war on public health and a war on our constitutional rights. Many of the problems the drug war alleges to resolve are in fact caused by the drug war itself. So called “drug-related” crime is a direct result of drug prohibition’s misrepresentation of unchallengeable laws of supply and demand.

Public health problems like HIV and Hepatitis C are all exacerbated by zero tolerance laws that restrict access to clean needles. The drug war is not the advocate of family principles that a few would have us believe. Children of inmates are at risk of educational collapse, unemployment, addiction and criminal behavior. Drug abuse is horrible, but the drug war is worse. Few public policies have compromised public health and damaged our fundamental civil liberties for so long and to such a degree as the war on drugs. The United States is now the world’s largest jailer, imprisoning nearly half a million people for drug offenses alone. That’s more people than Western Europe, with a bigger population, incarcerates for all offenses. Roughly 1. million people are arrested each year for drug law violations – 40% of them just for marijuana possession. People suffering from cancer, AIDS and other debilitating illnesses are regularly denied access to their medicine or even arrested and prosecuted for using medical marijuana. Access to quality drug treatment is one of the greatest obstacles to addressing the issue of drug misuse in the United States. Drug treatment is woefully under-funded, the treatment capacity is inadequate to accommodate everyone who requests it, a wide range of effective treatment modalities are unavailable, and drug treatment facilities often face NIMBY issues which can block their opening.

One of the greatest failures of existing drug policy is the emphasis and support that is placed on investigation, prosecution and incarceration of drug possession offenses, rather than backing drug treatment and preventative drug education. Over the past 30 years, the government has spent 70% of drug war resources on police, prisons, and military with only 30% devoted to drug education and treatment. Promoting funding difficulties, health insurance companies fail to offer equal coverage for drug treatment as they do for similar chronic conditions. Policy Recommendation The limited option of treatment methods available is another obstacle to the provision of quality treatment. The most common form of drug treatment follows the AA model, which works well for many people but is inappropriate and inadequate for many others.

Despite solid scientific evidence attesting to the effectiveness of certain drug treatment modalities, such as methadone maintenance for opioid addiction and several harm reduction models, there is strong resistance, particularly within the criminal justice system, to any model not based on abstinence. Treatment has generally been based on a model proven effective for a single ethnic group and gender and the lack of culturally sensitive treatment options and programs that provide critical ancillary services, particularly for women with children, further restrict access to successful treatment. n 1986 Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which force judges to deliver fixed sentences to individuals convicted of a crime, regardless of culpability or other mitigating factors.

Federal mandatory drug sentences are determined based on three factors: the type of drug, weight of the drug mixture (or alleged weight in conspiracy cases), and the number of prior convictions. Judges are unable to consider other important factors such as the offender’s role, motivation, and the likelihood of recidivism. Only by providing the prosecutor with “substantial assistance”, (information that aids the government in prosecuting other offenders) may defendants reduce their mandatory sentences. This creates huge incentives for people charged with drug offenses to provide false information in order to receive a shorter sentence. Summary

Although Congress intended mandatory sentences to target “king pins” and managers in drug distribution networks, the U. S. Sentencing Commission reports that only 5. 5 percent of all federal crack cocaine defendants and 11 percent of federal drug defendants are high-level drug dealers. This is because the most responsible defendants are also the defendants who are in the best position to provide prosecutors with enough information to obtain sentence reductions; the only way to lessen mandatory sentences. Low-level offenders, such as drug mules or street dealers, often end up serving longer sentences because they have little or no information to provide law enforcement officials.. The U. S.

Sentencing Commission and the Department of Justice have both concluded that mandatory sentencing fails to discourage crime. Furthermore, mandatory minimums have worsened racial and gender disparities, and have contributed significantly toward prison overcrowding. Mandatory minimum sentencing is costly and unjust. Mandatory sentencing does not eliminate sentence disparities; instead it shifts decision-making ability from judges to prosecutors, who operate without responsibility. Mandatory minimums fall short of punishing high-level dealers. Finally, mandatory sentences are responsible for sending record numbers of women and minorities to prison. Works Cited


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