Tough birthday for War on Drugs

Tough birthday for War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is now in its ripe middle age, turning 40 this month. But its birthday hasn’t been an especially pleasant one.

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Consider a few of the top-line findings from two recently published reviews of the drug war around the world and here in Illinois.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy’s June report (PDF) described the public resources expended on reducing the supply of narcotics and incarcerating those arrested for drugs as “futile.” The commission recommended expanding treatment options for addicts, ramping up realistic prevention efforts targeted toward young people and, broadly speaking, refocusing drug control measures “in science, health, security and human rights.”

Last December, the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study pointed out that the war on drugs hits minorities especially hard in the Land of Lincoln. The report found that in about 60 percent of the state’s 102 counties, racial minorities were arrested at higher rates than whites for drug-related charges even though national surveys show that all racial groups are equally likely to use narcotics relative to their slice of the population.

In rural Iroquois County, for example, people who were not white made up 5 percent of the population in 2008, but 36 percent of all drug arrests in 2005. In Cook County during the same years, people who were not white made up 46 percent of the population and 76 percent of drug arrests, according to the study.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she considers the war on drugs a failure, both in moral and economic terms. She made her feelings known before a rambunctious crowd gathered for an anti-drug war rally at the Thompson Center in Chicago last Friday.

“Drugs, and the failed war on drugs, have devastated lives, families, and communities,” she said. Here’s more from her speech:

Preckwinkle, as she says in the above clip, said she would “address this problem directly” and reduce the population housed in the Cook County Jail; she endorsed increasing access to drug treatment programs.

During her campaign for office, Preckwinkle also backed expanding pre-trial diversion programs for first-time drug offenders, like the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Drug Abuse Program. She also promised to “look to expand” the state attorney’s drug school and the county drug court.

The Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and the Chicago Council of Lawyers, meanwhile, have been talking up their proposal (PDF) to re-frame how the county’s judges, prosecutors and attorneys deal with non-violent drug defendants. They want to create a pilot program of five diversion courtrooms where judges would focus on shifting non-violent drug offenders into treatment options rather than jail. The proposal argues such a shift would reduce recidivism rates, keep felonies off of arrestees’ records and save the county millions annually.

On Friday, speaking with reporters, Preckwinkle said she planned to convene all the county elected officials who deal with criminal justice in Cook County to talk about about drug offenders and criminal justice. She wasn’t more specific than that. “We’re going to be looking at a lot of options,” Preckwinkle said.

— Micah Maidenberg

Filed under: Criminal Justice, Health


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  • The War on Drugs failed $1 Trillion ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and read more on my artist

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