In the last three decades prison population in the U.S. grew rapidly: in the 1970s there were only 110 prison inmates for every 100.000 people, today there are more than 700, more than in any other countries on earth. My country, Hungary was found to have the highest rates of imprisonment in the European Union, but it is still far less than in the U.S. (155 per 100.000). The proliferation of the American prison-industrial complex is strongly related to the escalation of the War on Drugs. Over 80% of the increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions, more than half of those kept in federal prisons are drug offenders today. Government officials and prohibitionist organizations claim that the growth of prison population was a necessary cost to reduce the drug problem, in addition, the vast majority of prisoners are large scale traffickers and not users. Advocates of drug policy reform don’t agree: they say the War on Drugs is out of control and the massive imprisonment of small scale offenders has a devastating effect on society, especially on the communities of colour. Indeed, Afro-Americans and Latinos have much bigger chance to be incarcerated for drug offenses than Whites. According to the federal Household Survey, "most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9 million whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent), and 1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users in 1998." And yet, blacks constitute 36.8% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations. African-Americans comprise almost 58% of those in state prisons for drug felonies; Hispanics account for 20.7%. That is why many people call the War on Drugs the new Jim Crow.
Posted by Peter Sarosi