You are on page 1of 6

Read-Skyhawk 1

Alec Read-Skyhawk
Mr. Rogers
Government
12 October 2016
Mock Congress Research Paper: Criminal Law Reform
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,217,947 adults were
incarcerated in US federal and state prisons, and county jails in 2014. Prison population rates in
the United States are the worlds highest, at 693 inmates per 100,000 of the national population.
The next closest prison population rate is 164 inmates per 100,000 of the national population,
which is Chinas (Fair). Of the 3,910,647 adults on probation in the US at the end of 2013, 25%
(approximately 977,662 people) had a drug charge as their most serious offense (Herberman).
Should non-violent drug offenders be sent to prison, or should they receive help? The
Decriminalization Act of 2017 would send non-violent drug offenders to treatment centers
instead of prison. This bill needs to become a law because it will lower prison populations,
lower prison costs, and set up rehabilitation and treatment centers for nonviolent drug offenders
who need help, not incarceration.
The prison population in America is a major problem. The federal prisons are 40%
overcrowded (Samuels). One of the major reasons for prisons being overcrowded is because of
the war on drugs. Instead of picking a war on criminals, they decided to attack people who have
a problem and need help. As a result of the war on drugs, the number of drug offenders arrested
annually almost quadrupled from 1970- to about 2 million during the first decade of the twenty
first century. Thanks to the relative ease of catching small-time users, as well as the sheer
numbers of such individuals, the vast majority of the people serving sentences were not dealers

Read-Skyhawk 2

or so-called drug kingpin's--gang leaders--but people caught using illegal drugs. (Burlingame
36). The fact the United States makes up around 5% of the worlds population, but holds 25% of
the worlds prisoners is sickening (Sledge). Fareed Zakaria, writer for Time Magazine writes,
Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost
tenfold increase. More than half of America's federal inmates today are in prison on drug
convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than
were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for
possession. My bill would lower prison populations and our prison population rate by sending
non-violent drug offenders to treatment and rehab centers instead of incarcerating them. Why
use taxpayer money to send people to jail when you can use that money to give them help?
Some states have already made a switch to these treatment centers. For example, Marylands
city Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) cuts out the criminal justice
middleman. Instead of jailing people struggling with addiction, officers connect people directly
with the treatment and services that can actually help them get sober. (Dansky). Not only would
this lower our nations prison population, it would also make a huge difference in many peoples
lives.
While the prison population is high, that also means the cost of housing prisoners is very
expensive. Taxpayers spend over $50 billion annually for state prisons (Horowitz). On average,
it costs almost $29,000 to keep one person in federal prison for one year (Samuels). Sending
these non-violent drug offenders to treatment centers would cut prison costs drastically.
Marylands use of alternative sanctions has reduced the annual cost to house an offender in their
state prison system from $20,000 to $4,000 (McVay). All of the money saved from this could be
used in so many better ways. The money saved shall go to drug awareness programs to make

Read-Skyhawk 3

sure future generations know the harsh personal cost of drugs. The federal prison system
consumes over 25 percent of the entire Department of Justice budget (Horowitz). Prison costs are
eating up money that could be spent on police and protecting the public from violent offenders.
Lets put a stop to spending all this money on non-violent offenders, and start putting money to
protect the public from criminals who commit violent crimes.
Non-violent drug offenders have not been getting fair treatment. They are being sent to
prisons that have some of the nations worst criminals. Drug offenders do not need prison. They
need help and treatment. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), treatment
consistently has been shown to reduce the costs associated with lost productivity, crime, and
incarceration caused by drug users. Not only would these treatment centers help treat these drug
offenders, but it would also help lower prison populations and costs. The Justice Policy Institute
also states, Substance-involved people have come to compose a large portion of the prison
population. Substance use may play a role in the commission of certain crimes: approximately 16
percent of people in state prison and 18 percent of people in federal prison reported committing
their crimes to obtain money for drugs.21 Treatment delivered in the community is one of the
most cost-effective ways to prevent such crimes and costs approximately $20,000 less than
incarceration per person per year.22 A study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy
found that every dollar spent on drug treatment in the community yields over $18 in cost savings
related to crime.23 In comparison, prisons only yield $.37 in public safety benefit per dollar spent.
Releasing people to supervision and making treatment accessible is an effective way of reducing
problematic drug use, reducing crime associated with drug use and reducing the number of
people in prison." (James). This bill would help the American people struggling with drug abuse,
not just give up on them and put them through the Criminal Justice System to be forgotten.

Read-Skyhawk 4

While there are many supporters that agree nonviolent drug offenders need help not
prison, others disagree and oppose freeing these offenders from incarceration. Some argue
sending these non-violent drug offenders to treatment instead of imprisonment would not be just
as expensive. Those who argue are wrong. A recent evaluation of DTAP by the National Center
on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found the program achieved
significant results in reducing recidivism and drug use, increased the likelihood of finding
employment, and saved money over the cost incarceration. Along with these results, the
evaluation found that the average cost of placing a participant in DTAP, including the costs of
residential treatment, vocational training and support services was $32,974half the average
cost of $64,338 if the participant had been sent to serve the average term of imprisonment for
participants, 25 months (McVay). Others could argue treatment would not be cost-effective in
the long run. According to the Justice Policy Institute, Other studies that used a cost-benefit
analysisa broader measure of how money spent on treatment alternatives compares to money
spent on prisons in terms of crime rates and other societal benefits like employment and tax
revenueshave shown that, dollar for dollar, treatment reduces the societal costs of substance
abuse more effectively than incarceration does (McVay). So many studies point to treatment
being more beneficial to drug abusers than incarceration.
In conclusion, the Decriminalization Act of 2017 needs to be passed because it will lower
prison populations, lower prison costs, and send non-violent drug offenders to treatment, not
prison. With this bill in place, we will see a better future to come. We will have more and more
citizens benefit our society, instead of rotting in cells. As a government elected by the people,
and for the people, we need to do our best for the citizens of this wonderful nation. I expect my
fellow senators to act accordingly, and make this bill a law.

Read-Skyhawk 5

Works Cited
Bethesda. "Drug Addiction Treatment in the Criminal Justice System." National Institute
on Drug Abuse (NIDA). N.p., 27 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Burlingame, Jeff. Prisons. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2012. Print.
Dansky, Kara. "Jail Doesn't Help Addicts. Let's Stop Sending Them There." American
Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Read-Skyhawk 6

Fair, Helen. "Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Total." World Prison Brief. N.p., n.d.
Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Herberman, Erinn J. "Probation and Parole in the United States." Violating Their
Conditions of Supervision Remained Stable at about 9% in 2013. (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
James, Juliene. "A VIEW FROM THE STATES: EVIDENCE-BASED PUBLIC
SAFETY LEGISLATION." The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-) 102.3
(2012): 821-49. Web.
McVay, Doug. "Treatment and Incarceration." Stalking and Violence: New Patterns of
Trauma and Obsession (n.d.): 97-108. Web.
Samuels, Charles E., Jr. Federal Bureau of Prisons Budget Request (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Sledge, Matt. "The Drug War And Mass Incarceration By The Numbers." The Huffington
Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.
Zakaria, Fareed. "Incarceration Nation." Time. Time Inc., 02 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 Oct.
2016.