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.

Infographic: Our Insanely Expensive War On Drugs

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]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.