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Why Drug Users’ Incarceration Is Useless Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 27th, 2021


In 2005, there were as many as 2.1 million people incarcerated in jails and prisons in the U.S. that is an equivalent of 1 in every 136 residents U.S (Golembeski et al 2005). There has been a great harmful impact on this mechanism, especially African Americans. These offenders are a big burden for the prison department of the country.

The offenders who are incarcerated for the drug offenses when released from prison are faced with numerous social problems as well as other obstacles to their livelihoods (Travis et al 2005). Some of the problems they face include unemployment, housing problems, lack of health services among others.

It is a sad state of affairs when the people who suffer most due to these incarcerations are the families and the communities of the offenders. The families stand the chance of lack of very basic amenities like food, health, and medication plus the important education because in most cases the children of the offenders are dependent on him or her to provide these amenities (O’Brien et al 1996). The family also is at risk of stigmatization due to the incarceration of one of their family members.

Most of the offenders are aged between twenty and forty years. This shows that the youths and a proportion of the middle-aged are the most vulnerable to drug addiction and hence to being convicted with drug offenses (Golembeski et al 2005).


The central government began the drug war in 1967. At first, the war was intended at eliminating poverty which gave rise to criminal activities. There were many programs developed each geared towards offender rehabilitation, caring treatment for the offenders, and constitutional rights. However, thirteen years later the state policy shifted to spotlight on drug-related crime deterrence through arrest and imprisonment (Golembeski et al 2005).

This was the era of the war on drugs. The law enforcement agencies and the overall criminal justice system established a new consent to counter the drug supply and radically increasing the arrest of drug criminals, ending up sending more numbers than the prisons could accommodate (Travis et al 2005). The arrest figures rose up from 661,000 to 1,126,300 in a span of 10 years in1983 to 1993. Owing to the drug war, African American men were convicted and imprisoned at alarming rates much higher than other racial groups.

Would incarceration reduce crime?

The only aspect affecting prison is the crime rates. For the last 30 years, U.S has been on an imprisonment spree as compared to 50 years before that for she had flat imprisonment of 110 per 100,000 people (Golembeski et al 2005). In that period, the criminal justice which comprised the courts, parole board/ officials, and the prosecutors controlled the imprisonment policy. Then, in the 1970s there was public concern about crime and this led to a response by the political system that came up with a variety of legislations with an intention of increasing prison sentences to reduce the notion that the state was soft on crime (Travis et al 2005).

The Prison boom has resulted in an economic reality (Cuellar et al 2005). By 2001, government spending on all levels of criminal justice reached a record high of $167 billion as compared to $36 billion in 1982. The employees of the criminal justice system were an 81% rise from the figures of 1982. All these required money to be spent on courts, policing and incarceration, prisoners, supervisees and surely made prison a huge industrial complex to the economy.

Mass imprisonment has earned potential crash on the labor market. The start of prison overcrowding clashed with the de-industrialization era and the rising jobs abroad (Travis et al 2005). In the U.S, the less skilled workforce has become less economical and useful as jobs were lost. The prisons on the other hand absorbed these low-skilled workers as guards, service workers, and others as prisoners. This has been a major contributor to unemployment in the U.S as compared to European states.

Let us make ourselves clear. The availability of substance abuse does not mean availability to those we would claim would benefit from it, in fact, persons with dependency or sought of chemical abuse are more likely to be imprisoned. This, therefore, suggests a common playing field between society and the policymakers in regard to controlling distribution and drug use (O’Brien et al 1996).

Many people claim that it is resource-demanding and continued human suffering to imprison persons whose liking to criminal offenses could be deal with more by effective substance abuse treatment (Travis et al 2005).

Analysts are claiming that, the $25,000 annual allocation expenditure per prisoner is a waste of money. The rising state and funds shortfall should present an important drive for re-consideration. California was the first state to re-think the best strategy to fight the drug war (Cuellar et al 2005). They came up with California’s proposition 36 that authorized behavior handling rather than imprisonment and they reduced dangers that result from drug abuse and enforcement laws

With over $2.5 billion costs related to drug abuse in Washington, over $541 million of this is related to crime and another cost not related to offenders for example electricity expenses, lower productivity, and medical expenses (O’Brien et al 1996). Individuals with the drug-related offense are more likely to commit new offenses, particularly drug and property-related offenses after prison release. In one study, 95% of incarcerated offenders deteriorated within 3 years of release, 85% of offenders declined within 1 year (Cuellar et al 2005). This clearly shows that imprisonment does not alter anything significant.

This has led to several programs being introduced in order to increase access to treatment for drug-related crimes. These among many programs set up in Washington include:

  1. DOSA (Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative), set up in 1995 allows drug offenders to cut their time in prison by half if they stand by the sentence conditions.
  2. Drug Courts set up in 1994 by 25 jurisdictions provide successful court-supervised treatment substitutes to eligible offenders charged with a drug offense.
  3. Washington legislature approved SHB2338, which condensed drug-related sentences and aimed at putting into use savings expected from corrections cost be put into substance abuse treatment and support services for the offenders. There was also a directive issued to police in September 2003 to make marijuana ownership the lowest priority.

Department of Correction (DOC) statistics show that drug-related crimes have declined from 23% to 19% in 2000 and 2004 respectively and a first-time drug offense of 32% in 2000 to 27% in 2004 (Cuellar et al 2005). However, the number of drug-related offenses has constantly risen.

Many prefer alternative programs like drug courts, probation as an alternative to incarceration because of its lower cost and the society. Moreover, the use of alternative criminal sanctions elevates to the same issues imprisonment does, although to a smaller extent.

Drug courts

This model represents a large-scale countrywide attempt to transfer criminal offenders from imprisonment into drug abuse treatment. It was formed as a result of overwhelming substance abuse in the 1980s that threatened to overcome criminal justice. In 2001, many as 230,000 offenders had been to the community service (Cuellar et al 2005).

Common elements of drug courts

  1. Focus primarily on nonviolent offenders.
  2. The criminal justice process is substituted by an accord between the offender and the executive committee responsible for the discipline under which an agreement is stated for the offender to remain crime-free and complete a behavior program.
  3. Defendant’s development is administered by the judge liaising with the multidisciplinary panel.

Drug court has helped realize the following objectives

  1. Improved community security
  2. Crime reduction
  3. Reduced drug and substance abuse. Drug court participation to enable productive members of the society
  4. The impact on resources is reduced.

Consequences of imprisonment

Loss of voting rights

This is a process called disenfranchisement. Owing to criminal offenses, close to 5.3 million Americans have lost their voting rights. District of Colombia and other 46 states do not allow the convict to vote while on incarceration while 36 do not allow inmates to vote while on parole. Due to voter disenfranchisement, many have muted and their political voices distinguished. This is by no means the reason why incarceration is waste of time. Moreover, financial and political resources which could have been put into areas of concern such as education, health, re-entry programs, and job training in these ‘not worthy’ areas are diverted back to the state leaving these undeserved areas poorer.

Lack of Medical aid

Ex-convicts do not find any insurance coverage when they return to their families and they are unable to receive Medicaid when incarcerated (Cuellar et al 2005). This burdens more the convict and surely will not find any reason to feel he/ she is free to access state resources. The criminal justice system does not receive central resources from Medicare to provide health services to offenders. States on the other hand may terminate medical benefits after release may be due to delays and by itself strain the convict and feels there was no reason for release (Cuellar et al 2005).

Ban from cash assistance

According to (TANF) Act, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, persons convicted of the offense of ownership, utilizing, and or transaction of illegal drugs are excluded from receiving food stamps and cash assistance in its entirety. To add to that, the amount payable to each household is drastically reduced. As the drug-related convicts return home, they are deprived of financial assistance that would help them rebuild back. Due to a high number of drug-related offenses, many convicts find this uneasy welcoming. They would rather be in the prisons than face reality outside. That is why ex-convicts easily find their way into prison walls again.

Housing challenges

Many ex-convicts find this unbearable because upon release they depend upon families and families. These dealings may have changed during imprisonment and were not accessible to ex-inmates. Consequently, prior to conviction, many offenders could not own a home and this means they will not have any home when they are released. For many years access to public housing for ex-offenders has been limited.


There are also untold tremors ex-offenders undergo due to the unwillingness of employers to absorb them into the job market. Many companies do not employ people with criminal proof or legal restrictions. Therefore, many offenders feel stigmatized from being imprisoned. Moreover, prior to conviction offenders may not be having the necessary skills required or called for in the job market. This is a bitter challenge drug-related offenders find it hard to swallow. There is no legislation out there to protect their rights.

More impacts on incarceration

Incarceration has an overall effect on the entire household. When a father is incarcerated, the family is at risk of losing the much-needed emotional and financial support. The family also is at risk of stigmatization from other families hence there are social problems involved. There is also the loss of the emotional connectedness of the family members and the individual who has been incarcerated.


Drug and substance abuse can be very destructive because it leads to jail or prison. Persons who abuse drugs are under the jurisdiction of the courts because of drug offenses and for intoxication. Legal intervention through drug courts has assisted offenders that would otherwise disappear in prison to positively change their behaviors. Offenders might not have met restraining eligible criteria designed to conserve resources.

A significant number of offenders are released to go home from prison every year after serving their terms. The punishment does not stop at the administration level where they had been punished in prison, but the punishment continues even after their release. This punishment comes from the social barriers and policies that hinder them from fully integrating with the community they had been integrating with.

In order for them to fully be rejoined with the community they prior lived with, it is important for them to be given social and political support, health care, and financial support. If society fails to do this, the offenders will not be able to fully reintegrate with the community and hence it is creating a very dangerous ground for the society at large.


Carroll, K. M. et al. (1988). Psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for ambulatory cocaine abusers. Archives of general psychiatry.

Cuellar, A.E., Kelleher, K.J., Rolls, J.R., & Pajer, K. (2005) Medicaid insurance policy for youths involved in the criminal justice system. American Journal of Public Health.

Golembeski, C., & Fullilove, R. (2005). Criminal (In)justice in the city and its associated health consequences. American Journal of Public Health.

Marlatt, G. A (1988). Matching clients to treatment: treatment models and stages of change. In Assessmentof addictive behaviors. Ed. by D. M. Donovan and A. Marlatt. New York, Guilford Press,..

O’Brien, C. P., and McLellan (1996.), A. T. Myths about the treatment of addiction. Lancet.

Travis, J. (2005). But they all come back: Facing the challenges of prisoner reentry. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.

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