America has a problem. According to Prison Policy Initiative, The American Criminal Justice system holds over 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons and 102 federal prisons. One in five people are locked up for a drug offense. Nonviolent drug convictions are a defining characteristic of the federal prison system. There has also been a rise in youth incarceration in relation to drugs. There are 1,900 youth currently incarcerated for drugs, and they’re being locked up without a second thought.
When people are experimenting with the use of recreational drugs, what many others fail to do is to reach out and help these people. Instead, we make things more problematic by relying on prison as a first resort. By throwing people into the prison system, we are furthering the harm already done, putting them in contact with actual criminals and on a pathway to future crime. It would be far better to send people to rehabilitation centers and not to put a first-time conviction on people’s records.
The criminal justice system lacks empathy. For some suffering from severe anxiety or chronic illness, occasional use of marijuana may be their only effective relief. Many of these people have good jobs and contribute to society. They have never acted out in a violent manner. Punishing them by throwing them into prison is just acting in an authoritarian manner, not protecting society.
Getting rid of mandatory minimums or decriminalizing drug use would see a drop in violent drug-related crime because there would no longer be a threat of getting caught and being thrown in jail. Let’s not ruin someone’s chance to succeed because they made a mistake. We need to make changes to enforcement of drug laws to keep from hindering the youth of America.