A Plea For More Drug Testing and Sanctions

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Testing more drug users and promptly sanctioning those who fail “is the only single proposal with the potential to reduce drug-related crime swiftly and dramatically, David Boyum and Mark A. R. Kleiman argue in The Public Interest journal. “Unfortunately,” they say, “that promise depends on the mobilization of more political and administrative muscle than may in fact be available. But other policy changes still offer the possibility of significant reductions in drug-related crime – raising taxes on alcohol, forbidding alcohol sales to the minority of drinkers most prone to breaking the law under the influence, expanding drug treatment and in particular opiate maintenance therapy, and redirecting drug law enforcement, prosecution, and sentencing to minimize trafficking-related violence by targeting the most flagrant markets and the most violent dealers.”

Desistance from drugs by those on probation and parole, Boyum and Kleiman say, can be enforced by frequent drug tests, with predictable and nearly immediate sanctions for each missed test or incident of detected drug use. While in the long term drug-involved offenders who remain drug-involved are likely to be rearrested and eventually incarcerated, those long-term and probabilistic threats, even if the penalties involved are severe, may be less effective than short-term, but more certain, sanctions. Such programs can pay great dividends. By one calculation, a successful program can operate on just over $3,000 per offender per year, or about 15 percent of the cost of imprisonment. A national program, covering all offenders with identifiable hard-drug problems, could be implemented for between $6 and $8 billion per year, a sum that would be more than recovered by the consequent reductions in imprisonment for both the drug-involved offenders and the drug dealers who would have to leave the business as their best customers were denied them.

The American criminal justice system now spends a significant proportion of its resources enforcing the drug laws. More than 10 percent of all arrests and about 20 percent of all incarcerations involve drug law violations. Drug-related arrests are up 50 percent over the past 10 years, and drug-related incarceration is up 80 percent. The burden of drug law enforcement falls especially on urban minority communities.

Link: http://www.thepublicinterest.com/current/article2.html

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