War On Drugs, Impacts On American Society And Criminial Justice System

Against the increasing drug trafficking and resulting addiction among the U. S. public compelled the United States’ government to take decisive counter measures. The Reagan administration officially declared “war on drugs” and law enforcement and police agencies to were given excessive power to arrest, detain and imprison those suspected to be involved in drug trafficking as well as those found using illegal drugs. This three decade long war on drugs has made profound impact on American communities and also on the criminal justice system.

This paper will discuss these impacts on the American society and criminal justice system. The War on Drugs in the United States has made profound impacts on the American society. It has widened the gap between different communities living in the United States and the notion that every individual has equal rights and opportunities is severely undermined in these circumstances. It is mainly because of extensive focus of drug law enforcement agencies on the communities of color specially the African Americans and Hispanics.

Though the ratio of drug users is nearly equal to the ratio of population distribution in the United States, but the number of African Americans and Hispanics arrested, charged and convicted is far more than their white counter parts. For example only 14% of African Americans are regular drug users but 37% are arrested for drugs offenses while 57% are still incarcerated in the federal prisons. This large number of population of African Americans, Hispanics and Asians detained in state and federal prisons has made terrible effects on their respective communities.

(Special Report to Congress, 1998) The most affected because of these detentions are their children. A large number of African American and Hispanic children have forced to grow up without the supervision of one or both of their parents, which results in physical and mental complexities in these children. They are more exposed to crimes and drug trafficking and they are very likely to get addicted to drugs as well as get involved in drugs activities.

Another important drawback is the inability of these individuals to carry on their lives as their drug conviction makes them impossible to get good jobs or public welfare benefits from the government. This further leads to the disintegration of these families as well as their respective communities. The political representation of the colored communities is also seriously diluted due to their over representation in the drug offenses. Nearly 41. 4 million African American males are deprived off casting their votes due to drug convictions. (Human Rights Watch, 2000)

The war on Drugs has also made profound negative impacts on the Criminal Justice System. The disproportionate presence of the drug offenders is the result of increased authority of the drugs law enforcing agencies. Due to this sharp surge in drug arrests the number of per year detainees has tripled in the last 25 years and the year 2005 had a record high of total 1. 8 million drug arrests. There has been a dramatic increase in the population of drug offenders in the prisons as they were only 41,100 in 1980 and now reached to as high as half million in the year 2005.

(Crime in the United States, 2005) These high arrest rates are despite of declining drug usage in the recent years. (Office of Applied Studies, 2006) Large numbers of these detainees have used drugs in the last month of their arrest but unfortunately there is no proper rehabilitation program for there people so that they can get rid of their drug addiction and have a better life after returning home. According to the statistics available the number of regular drug user detainees having access to professional treatment programs in the federal prisons has declined from 36.

5 in 1991 to 15. 2 in 2004. While in state prison the condition is far worse as only 14. 1% have access to treatment. The special laws passed by the legislature and sentencing guidelines for drug offenders has resulted in a longer term of incarceration. Racially disparate sentencing laws have proved to be far worse than sentencing guidelines for the colored communities. For e. g. an African American convicted for possessing cracked cocaine is likely to get a twice as longer sentence than a white convicted of possessing powder cocaine.

This disparity has affected a large proportion of young African Americans to stay behind the bars for a longer period than their white counterparts for nearly the same offence. (Drug Policy and Criminal Justice System, 2001) The war on drugs declaration compelled the law enforcement agencies to put their complete attention towards curbing drugs trafficking and manufacturing. As their attention, energies and resources were drawn towards the war on drugs other crimes and offenses were neglected.

Many statistics show an increase in other criminal activities while the law enforcement agencies were busy dealing with drug trafficking. In Illinois for example the law enforcement officers have neglected drunken drivers, as they were busy checking African Americans’ cars for drugs. This resulted in increasing traffic fatalities. Studies show that the increase in arrests of drug offenders has not helped in undermining the crime rate in general. On the contrary each drug dealer arrest has resulted in a surge in crime index. (Benson, Rasmussen & Kim, 1998)

Yet another threat to civil liberties are the incentives created by the asset forfeiture laws. The last two decades has proved that these incentives have made a very negative impact on the criminal justice system in general and specially on the law enforcement agencies. Laws allowing forfeiting property suspected to be used for drug business have lead to misallocation of agencies’ resources as well as motivated them to put their efforts towards drug offenders only ignoring other crimes. Studies show that in nearly 80% the property was seized but the suspects were not convicted for the charges.

(Bluemenson & Nilsen, 1998) The above studies and statistics clearly show that the war on drug has not given the results as it was intended initially. The racial bias among the policy makers of the criminal justice system must be checked and these policies must be reviewed. The drugs problem should be addressed as a social problem not as a criminal justice problem.


Blumenson, Eric and Nilsen (1998) Eva, Policing for Profit: The Drug War’s Hidden Economic Agenda, University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 65, No. 1, at 64. Benson, Bruce L., Rasmussen, David W. , Kim, Iljoong (1998), “Deterrence and Public Policy: Trade-Offs in the Allocation of Police Resources,” International Review of Law and Economics, Vol. 18, 77-100. Drug Policy and Criminal Justice System (2001). Sentencing Project www. sentencingproject. org Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs (2000) Human Rights Watch. May 2000, Vol. 12, No. 2. Office of Applied Studies. (2006). Results from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (DHHS Publication No.

SMA 06-4194, NSDUH Series H-30). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at Table 1. 28B. FBI, Crime in the United States, (2005), Arrest Table, available online: http://www. fbi. gov/ucr/05cius/arrests/index. html, visited November 22, 2007. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Criminal Case Processing, 1999, February 2001, p. 1. US Sentencing Commission, Special Report to the Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy (1997) Washington, DC: US Sentencing Commission, p. 8.