Senator Jim Webb crusades against prison overcrowding citing a need to repair the criminal justice system by recalculating “who goes to prison and for how long” (Webb, 2009, p. 4). The U. S. Justice Department and Senator Webb agree that drug abuse and addiction results in an overburdened justice system. According to the Justice Department, the economic impact of trafficking and drug abuse is nearly $215 billion annually (U. S. Department of Justice [USDOJ], 2010).
Most drug offenders are passive users or minor dealers of marijuana; reshaping America’s drug polices will reduce the number of incarcerated individuals while allowing the criminal justice system to concentrate on more dangerous offenders. However, reshaping drug polices involves not only state and federal legislatures but also public opinion and the criminal justice system itself. Public Policy Process According to Marion and Oliver (2006), the public policy process is complex and contains the following five steps: problem identification, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy implementation, and policy evaluation.
These same steps are necessary to reshape America’s drug policy and thus alleviate prison overcrowding. Problem Identification The most common arrest crime category in 2008 was drug violations; incarcerations of prisoners for drug offenses are 20% of state prisoners and 53% of federal prisoners (USDOJ, 2010). According to the Department of Justice (2010), the consequences of drug offenses effects the entire criminal justice system straining resources from arrest through adjudication and incarceration continuing to the post-release supervision procedures.
Since the 1970s, many states enacted mandatory long-term sentences for drug offenses, these laws resulted in a 12-fold increase in prison population (Mazza, 2004). In New York, a conviction for either selling or possessing four ounces of narcotic drugs nets the offender a 15-year mandatory sentence, the same as those convicted of murder. Both Senator Webb (2009) and Dr. Mazza (2004) agree that neither are these laws effective in lowering the use and sale of illegal drugs, nor have the laws ended the power of the multi-billion dollar drug trade.
Agenda Setting The type of agenda for reshaping drug laws is a systemic agenda. This type of agenda encompasses issues commonly perceived by the political community as deserving public attention and involving matters falling under legislative jurisdiction and governmental authority (Marion & Oliver, 2006). Senator Webb introduced legislation in 2009 to create a commission to review every aspect of the criminal justice system; Webb (2009) endeavors to bring together the best minds to reform the criminal justice process.
One of Webb’s concerns is how to reshape the nation’s drug policies. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of current and former law enforcement officers, support Webb’s commission. LEAP compares Al Capone, an alcohol smuggler, to Pablo Escobar, a drug cartel lord, as “Same problem…same solution. Repeal Prohibition Now! ” (Roig-Franzia, 2009, p. 3). Senator Webb receives support from former police chiefs, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, and both liberal and conservatives in the senate. Policy Formation.
Policy formation is the process that creates formal polices. Reshaping America’s drug policy is a major overhaul of the existing drug laws and policy. In more than half of the states, individuals convicted for drug offenses exceeds the number convicted of violent crimes, and in six states the convictions for drug offenses are 50 to 100% higher than those convicted of violent crimes (Mazza, 2004). State and federal legislatures will decide if money already dedicated to incarcerating drug convicts deserves redirection to drug rehabilitation instead.
If the various legislatures adopt a “no prohibition” policy for low-level drug use, possession, and distribution, the funds allocated for the incarceration of these individuals either become a cost savings or a way to fund drug education and rehabilitation. Conversely, if legislation passes to counteract harsh mandatory drug sentences, prisons expenditures become less as the individuals spend less time in prison. Both political liberals and conservative agree that the current drug laws drain economic resources without curtailing illegal drug use.
All laws enter a formal legislative process involving committees and hearings in both the U. S. House and the U. S. Senate before becoming law. Policy Implementation and Policy Evaluation The next step in the policy process is implementation or the steps taken after bills become law. Policy implementation depends on the policy itself, whether it be the abolishment of mandatory sentences for drug crimes, lesser sentences, or the repeal of drug prohibition. Although many agree drug law needs modification, disagreement exists between modification and total repeal (Mazza, 2004).
Those already incarcerated for drug crimes are part of any new drug policy implementation. Setting policy for those already incarcerated or on probation for drug crimes is mandatory, as the economic concerns are numerous. Concerns addressing overwhelming the probation system and the closing of prisons require inclusion in any new drug policy. The final step in the public process is policy evaluation. Evaluating a new drug policy is only possible after implementation.
The courts, congress, or agency personnel evaluate if the program reaches the proscribe goals and if the policy is cost-efficient (Marion & Oliver, 2006). Conclusion Mandatory long-term drug sentences for minor drug offenses cost America billions of dollars annually. Reshaping drug polices involves not only state and federal legislatures but also public opinion as well as the criminal justice system itself. By reshaping current drug policies, other specific policies terminate such a mandatory drug sentences or drug treatment programs.
Conservative and liberals alike agree, new drugs policies are necessary. Any new drug policy must follow these five steps: problem identification, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy implementation, and policy evaluation. Mandatory long-term drug sentences are the problem, judges and senators agree new drug policies are mandatory, but the implementation and evaluation is still on the horizon. References Marion, N. E. , & Oliver, W. M. (2006). The public policy of crime and criminal justice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Mazza, C. (2004).
A pound of flesh: The psychological, familial and social consequences of mandatory long-term sentencing laws for drug offenses. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 4(3), 65-81. doi: 10. 1300/J160v04n03_05 Roig-Franzia, M. (2009, July 6). Structuring Sentences. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http/www. washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/05/AR2009070502483. html U. S. Department of Justice. (2010). Impact of drugs on society. Retrieved, from http//www. justice. gov/ndic/pubs38/38661/drugImpact. htm Webb, J. (2009, March 29). What’s wrong with our prisons?. Parade Magazine, 4-5.