The Urban Institute: A Look at Human, Health and Incarceration Costs of Warring Against Drugs

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So much of today’s jail and prison population is made up of people, many of them young, arrested on drug offenses. And many of those are addicts – diagnosed or not – are so heavily into narcotics that they are considered mentally ill or on the verge of becoming so.

In the decades-long war on drugs, some arrests are quite noted, including of cartel or gang bosses whose arrests uncovers a roadmap to violent crime rings. Others, some groups would argue, are plain nonsense – especially busts for minor pot smoking.

The premise of the drug battle is simple: Drug use, except in rare medical cases and with recreational marijuana use in select states, is illegal in this city, state and country – and the best way to chip at serious and violent crime is cut at lesser everyday offenses.

Drugs are, in some city neighborhoods, an easy target because of open-air markets where narcotics are dealt openly in the streets and on the corners. The arrests build, and fast, often uncovering more serious crimes, such as weapons possession or outstanding warrants for a violent crime.

But also, the prison population swells with inmates battling or abusing any and all manner of drugs. And with that, the costs of fighting a war some say should be called off while others urge the government and law enforcement to keep fighting a national scourge, balloons.

So what is the cost – human and in real capital? The Urban Institute tried Thurday to give the issue some context in the following webcast, titled “21st Century Drug Policy Reform: A Conversation with Gil Kerlikowske, the director of The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.”

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