The “War on Drugs" has been so terribly ineffective that it leads one to question its true motives. Even a dog can eventually learn from an electric fence, so why not the United States government? Is the goal really to curtail drug use, or is it to segregate society and vilify the disadvantaged?
A combination of mandatory minimum sentencing and other unjust laws has led to an enormous rise in U.S. prison populations. Thanks to these laws, 60 percent of the federal prison population consisted of nonviolent drug offenders as of 1999. In 1997, about twice as many people were arrested for drug offenses as for violent crimes.
As a result, the U.S. incarceration rate is now six to ten times higher than in most industrialized countries. Indeed, in 2000 the U.S. surpassed Russia to become the nation with the highest incarceration rate worldwide. A side effect of this enormous boom in prison population has been an increase in spending on prison construction. Since it is mostly young college-age people who are ending up in these prisons, fiscal planners have found that the most logical place to acquire the funds needed for building prisons is higher education. Indeed, there has been a direct trade-off in spending: in 1995, federal funding for university construction dropped by $954 million to $2.5 billion, while federal funding for prison construction rose by $926 million to $2.6 billion. These numbers are huge. They reveal that in one year, the federal government reallocated more than a quarter of total spending for university construction toward prison construction.
The laws are unjust in other ways as well: they target minorities and the poor disproportionately while turning a blind eye to the rich. On paper, these laws may seem unbiased, but they tend to be enforced selectively. In 1995, the sentencing project reported that one out of every three black men in their twenties was under correctional supervision. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, African Americans comprise approximately 13 percent of the population and 13 percent of all drug users. Yet strangely enough, more than 55 percent of those convicted for drug offenses are African American. Indeed, the U.S. police and judicial forces in tandem maintain one of the oldest affirmative action policies in the country. This affirmative action policy ensures that a disproportionate number of blacks are convicted of drug crimes, despite the fact that their drug use is only average among the country as a whole.
According to Human Rights Watch, these drug laws violate international human rights treaties because they have the effect of restricting rights on the basis of race. Facing accusation of human rights violations from abroad, one would expect our government to make some effort to curb such discrimination. But instead an even more stringent and discriminatory drug law was introduced last year.
By the amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1998, those...