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Infographic: Our Insanely Expensive War On Drugs

What does it cost to send a drug addict to jail? Far more than it needs to, as demonstrated by this infographic.

Thanks in part to the War on Drugs, more than half of the inmates in the federal prisons are there because of drug-related offenses. It’s a staggering statistic, one that helps explain the explosive growth of the prison system over the past thirty years, as officials struggle to keep up with the influx of inmates convicted of, in many cases, minor drug possession.

But rehabilitating a system that currently incarcerates over two million people is no easy task. Even though the "War on Drugs" has been abandoned, the legal precedents from the era remain, and we keep sending drug-users to jail—over and over. The main problem with that, as explained by this infographic, is that the cost of such policies is astronomical—in 2010, the government spent more than two billion dollars housing and drug addicted inmates. And because drug-related offenders are far more likely to return for repeat stays, the problem is self-perpetuating.

What’s to be done? One option, demonstrated in this infographic developed by a Pennsylvania rehab center, is to develop a system-wide preemptive treatment infrastructure. "We spent a ton of time crunching numbers," says Clarity Way’s Shane Jones, whose team culled data from the FBI, the US Department of Justice, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research to create the graphic. "We wanted to break down the drug use in America, the costs the government bears to fight it, and the money that could be saved from preemptive therapy on first time drug users."

New York State is one of the few states to test such an idea, looking to Sweden’s drug policies for insight, where first-time drug offenders can choose to complete a residential rehab program instead of hard time. A New York-only pilot program has shown that successfully completing the rehab program decreases an inmate’s chance of returning to jail by almost 70%. A similar federal program could save taxpayers millions of dollars a year—a bottom line that’s tough to argue with, regardless of your politics.

[Image courtesy of Clarity Way]

[Image: Doug James/Shutterstock]

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  • Gavin R. Putland

    To discourage use of illicit drugs, we need retail ("street") prices to be high. To discourage trafficking, we need upstream ("wholesale") prices to be low, so that concealable quantities are not valuable enough to be worth trafficking. Law enforcement is a bottleneck in the supply chain, raising prices downstream and lowering prices upstream. So, if drug producers, importers, and distributors are to be put out of business, law enforcement must be concentrated on RETAIL SALES. Criminalizing mere possession, especially of wholesale quantities, sends the wrong price signals. Worse, the reverse onus of proof on persons caught in unwitting possession is incompatible with the rule of law and therefore unconstitutional in all jurisdictions. So, if you are on the jury in a drug case, and if you are told that the defendant must prove that he/she knew nothing about the drugs, it is your civic duty to put the onus of proof back where it belongs (on the prosecution), raise it to the proper standard (beyond reasonable doubt), and hand down a verdict accordingly. More: .

  • Aaron Ferguson

    Let's quit all the squabble and try and fix this problem.
    One thing for sure jail doesn't work(speaking from experience having been addicted and homeless for years). Pushing religious agenda i.e. AA NA does little more than make people believe that they're powerless and unable to choose.
    These are human beings that deserve the right to make an educated decision about where they want their life to go. If drugs make you happy, by all means do them. But should the cons ever outweigh the pros shouldn't one be able to make the change without becoming a second class citizen?

  • Keith DeMatteo

    The stuff makes you peaceful HUH? That is why the violence. Those convicted of possesion and put in prison are already on probation and been given a chance. They should stay clean for a year and live up to the conditions of there probation. I quess we should give the cities more coffee and donut shops. They could use more AA clubs also. You do gooders live in your lilly white suburbs. I have had to deal with addicts. I have been successful with one because I was related to her and she had good parents. Motivation and incentive work for even those mentally ill, ex-convict, drug addicts. I have seen it for myself. I of course live in one of those suburbs but, I grew up in the city. I am living it not just talking about it.

  • Larry McIlvride

    Seriously flawed logic and thinking Keith...are you another brainwashed American who just spews shit out of his mouth to hear himself? I am a pot smoking,hard working Canadian guy who has never hurt a single soul or robbed anyone or even remotely come close to attacking someone for a hoot of the "EVIL WEED"  Here's the deal brainwashed Keith,prohibition has created crime where there would otherwise be NONE! Why do you think all those South American countries want to change their drug policies? To shut up the bitching,whining Americans and to stop making it a profitable business for organized criminals and from creating more jails and putting innocent,otherwise law abiding folks in prison,just because the U.S. NOSEY NEIGHBORS say that cannabis is evil? Give your head a shake!

  • Richard Morrison

     Stop with your holier than thou attitude.  Do you have any evidence to back up drugs being the cause of violence?  What if someone wants to use drugs?  Who are you or I to tell them what they can and can not do with their bodies?