Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The War on Drugs and Prison Growth: Limited Importance, Limited Legislative Options
"The dramatic rise in imprisonment in the United States over the past forty years is hard to understate.  Decades of stable incarceration ended suddenly in the mid-1970s, as the U.S. prison population soared from about 300,000 to 1.6 million inmates, and the incarceration rate from 100 per 100,000 to over 500 per 100,000....

Not surprisingly, academics, policymakers, and journalists alike have attempted to ferret out the causes of this carceral explosion.  Though explanations differ, almost all analysts agree that a major cause has been the 'War on Drugs.'...

Yet despite its widespread popularity, the argument pinning prison growth to the War on Drugs oversimplifies the connection between the two.  This article starts to develop a more sophisticated analysis of how the War on Drugs shapes prison populations, and examines its implications for the options available to legislatures seeking to better manage prison growth.  My conclusions run contrary to the conventional wisdom and, when it comes to reform, will not be particularly optimistic: the role of the War on Drugs is greatly exaggerated, and the areas where it matters most are likely the ones over which legislatures have the least control."

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