Prison reform requires nation to end its war on drugs

by Justin Su, Asst. Sports Editor

justingraphJustin Su

During the recent political debates, the candidates of both parties have had to address plenty of topical issues: immigration, policy in the Middle East and Asia, terrorism, green energy, trade, banking and so on. Yet, surprisingly, one of the issues closest to home is often left out.

Our current incarceration system has many flaws and needs reform. Too many Americans are trapped by their prison system.

One of the most-cited statistics right now on the overpopulation of US prisons would be that the United States only has five percent of the world’s population, but boasts 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Owing to this disproportionate figure, the US is forced to allocate huge budgets to prisons. In 2015 alone, $8.5 billion was given to fund prisons alone, and it is estimated over $1 trillion has been spent on the war on drugs since 1970.

Considering that drug policy often targets drug users rather than suppliers and that the war on drugs has led to stricter mandatory minimum sentences in the US, it is no surprise that federal, state, and county prisons and jails are estimated to hold over 2 million inmates.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the war on drugs has filled up approximately 50 percent of US prisons with nonviolent drug offenders. And Pew Research reported that, after stringent drug policy was adopted by the Nixon Administration in 1971,  prison population has risen 700 percent.

Given the ineffectiveness of drug policy, it follows that the US should decriminalize most drugs and seek to rehabilitate and educate users and youths. This action would have a much more positive effect on society as a whole.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the war on drugs currently costs $51 billion annually; this money could be better spent on rehabilitation and education. At the same time, incarceration and crime rates would diminish, as seen from precedent. 

For example, Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and has a decrease in percentage of adults who have tried drugs, percentage of continuous drug use, and the number of drug-induced deaths.

With Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump all taking stances leaning toward the legalization of marijuana, clearly the drug debate is gaining momentum nationally. In truth, the state of our penitentiaries makes it impossible to neglect prison reform during this election cycle. And with many Upper School seniors soon able to vote, members of the community will have to decide which candidate approaches this immediate problem with the best solution.


This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on Mar. 23, 2016.



Justin Su (10) is the assistant sports editor for both the Winged Post and Aquila. He hopes to bring his passion for sports to the publication. His passions include hanging out with friends, listening to music and watching “Better Call Saul.”