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The United States jails and prisons are overcrowded with individuals who need compassionate evidence-based approach or treatment for their drug addiction. America has approximately 5% of the global population and about 25% of all inmates. Between 2001 and 2012, approximately 50% of the prisoners serving sentence of over one year in federal penitentiaries were convicted of drug-related offenses (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012). Many Americans are imprisoned or jailed for inadequate reason or failure of the existing policies to address drug issue or to shift away from the punitive policies. The present drug policies and laws within the criminal justice system are worth studying because they have a great impact on the federal prison system, national budget, and the American economy as a whole.
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The growing number of prisoners, particularly drug offenders calls for research on drug policies. The modified policy can be viewed as a strategy to shift away from punitive policies that have resulted in high numbers of incarceration in the United States. This paper explores drug policies (precisely the Obama Drug Policy) in reference to the criminal justice system. At the same time, theories and assumptions that seem to underlie these policies are discussed.
Background and Motivators of Policy Reform
Almost certainly, the biggest driver of the population growth has been tough drug penalties. In response to the marijuana and cocaine epidemic in 1980s, the state legislature and the Congress passed laws that delivered mandatory-minimum sentences or jail terms for drug-related offenses. These policies and legislation were formulated and designed in order to help arrest major drug traffickers, but the sentences were triggered by the custody even for small quantities of drugs. For example, five grams of cocaine resulted in a mandatory minimum sentence of five years (Price, 2013). The reforms began a decade ago, when Texas passed laws about sending low-level, non-violent drug offenders to stay in treatment facilities rather than sending them to prison. The drug policy reform movement gained traction during the financial crisis because incarcerating people became more expensive for the government. Since 2007, more than 50% of the American States have formulated companionate drug policies to pass some form of criminal justice reform. Additionally, since 2008, the imprisoned population in the US has slightly dropped. McBride, Terry-McElrath, Harwood, Inciardi, and Leukefeld (2009) noted that the historical complexity of the United States drug policies ranges from laissez faire to tough prohibitive laws. However, in the past decade, the federal government and state efforts have been working on drug policy reforms via legislative actions and administrative policy actions. The resulting nationwide drug policy environment in the criminal justice systems is characterized by the increased prohibition,decriminalization, medicalisation, and harm reduction. The Obama Administration has made drug policy reform and national agenda as fraction of the federal health programme (McBride, Terry-McElrath, Harwood, Inciardi, & Leukefeld, 2009). In 2014, the Obama Administration unveiled an updated drug policy (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012) emphasizing various addiction and treatment programs as well as a move to curb the abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers.
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The Rationale and Applications of the Obama Drug Policy Reforms
The Obama Administration’s long-term plan to address drug abuse and its consequences in the United States was originally predefined in the 2010 by National Drug Control Strategy.The 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, also referred to as the Obama Drug Policy, is the basis of the present drug policy reforms in the criminal justice system. 2013 and 2014 National Drug Control Strategies are significant changes in the United States drug policies. Since 2010, the government has made significant changes to the drug policies that were meant to make the United States public health and safety more equitable and efficient. The central aspect of the Obama Drug Policy reforms is to strengthen both federal and state efforts to prevent drug use. Additionally, the policies are designed to seek early intervention in healthcare. Furthermore, the policy reforms integrate the treatment of drugs and substances used for treating different disorders in the American healthcare (Humphreys & McLellan, 2010). The criminal justice theory or rationale behind the changes is that the strategies will enable the government to break the cycle of chronic drug abuse, delinquency, crime, and incarceration.
The core of the Obama Drug Policy reforms lies in the rationale that evidence-based array of prevention, recovery support efforts, early intervention, and treatment is more effective than prohibitive policies or incarceration (Humphreys & McLellan, 2010). The rationale has also been fortified by several researches and studies in the heath and criminal justice system (Andrews & Bonta., 2010; Drake, Aos, & Miller, 2009). Substantial progress has been made in supporting individuals in need, especially Americans with substance use disorders and are linked to the criminal justice system. Policy reforms were also meant to improve the treatment services of substance use disorder within correctional facilities, reentry systems, and community corrections through alternative sentencing approaches (Andrews & Bonta., 2010).Some of the core aspects of the new policy are: extended access to drug education; recognizing and treating drug abuse or addiction as a health issue instead of criminal one; diversion of non-violent drug offenders into drug treatment facilities rather than into prisons. The new policy addresses the scourges of prescription opiates and heroin, the abuse rates of which have grown rapidly (Humphreys & McLellan, 2010).
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The Obama Administration’s effort towards criminal justice reform is the reflection of the pervasive agreement within and outside the white House that the war against alcohol and drugs has failed to some extent. In addition to this, the Administration has recognized that it is high time for the growing imprisoned population to be addressed from a policy point of view. The Department of Justice has stressed the need to revamp its strategies and policies from being harsh to being smart or strategic on drug-related crimes. As noted by the white House, the updated drug policy is an extension of that approach. The plan released by the Obama Administration calls for reforming the United States criminal justice system to identify alternatives to incarceration as well as efficient interventions across the entire criminal justice system to ensure that drug addicts have access to the treatment they need.
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This new system becomes vital by suggesting the drug addiction to be a persistent and progressive disease. The United States can prevent and treat drug or substance disorders by flouting the loop of drug-related crimes (Humphreys & McLellan, 2010). In other words, the Obama drug policy is more meaningful as it prevents and treats drug issues before they transform chronic problems rather than legalizing them or keep overcrowded prisons with minor drug offenders having treatable disorders over and over again. None of these extreme approaches are healthy or humane drug policies. Under the present Administration, the transformation has been noted in national and state programmes and policies that focus on public health over incarceration. In 2010, President Obama ratified the Fair Sentencing Act. The Act reduced the disparity in the quantity if crack cocaine needed from mandatory minimum sentence. The Act also eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence for minor possession of crack cocaine (Price, 2013). Further, the Act increased monetary penalties for drug traffickers.
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The Economics and Criminal Justice Theories of Prohibitive Drug Policies
Despite the advantages presented by the new policy, there are for and counterarguments relating to some of the policies' aspects. Andrews and Bonta (2010) noted that the punitive measures and tough approach to drug offenders have failed to reduce recidivism and have increased instead the number of drug offenders in the federal prison system that continues to strain national budget. The failure or unreliability on tough prohibitive laws and harsh punishment to deter drug abuses and related crime is well understood in the psychological context of human conduct. Harsher punishment has caused more harm than good. It follows that the best way of addressing drug abuse is to emphasize on rehabilitation and treatment of offenders. Cognitive and social learning has proved to be a powerful initiative of reducing drug-related criminal behaviors (Andrews & Bonta., 2010).
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Recognizing the fact that harsh punitive apporaches of the criminal justice concepts are ineffective, the Obama Administration reinvigorated the United States system of care for substance use disorders through the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy and the historic health care reforming law, commonly referred to as the “Affordable Care Act of 2010” (Humphreys & McLellan, 2010). The insurance parity regulations expand the availability of health insurance plans for substance use disorder care. Collectively, these policies will continue to improve availability and quality of substance use disorder care across the country. Consequently, public safety and public health will be improved. In the same context, the number of incarcerated drug users will fall (Andrews & Bonta., 2010; Chandler, Fletcher, & Volkow., 2009).
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The other reason that calls for drug policy reforms in the current criminal justice system is that the war against drugs reduces purchasing power (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012). Over the last two decades, more than seven million Americans were convicted of selling or possessing drugs. It follows that millions of Americans have criminal records for misdemeanor drug convictions. The implication is that these people will struggle to find good jobs. As a matter of fact, former felons are rarely hired by reputable companies. Even for those who are hired, they are underemployed. In simple terms, tough drug-related laws result in more harm to the economy than the treatment options (McBride, Terry-McElrath, Harwood, Inciardi, & Leukefeld, 2009).
Further, former felon applications for credit cards are often rejected, and since 30% of the United States customers transact with credit cards, potential customers cannot buy goods and services due to harsh laws on drugs. The greater is the number of former felons due to minor drug arrests and incarceration, the greater is the extent to which goods and services are shrunk to them. Drugs prohibition makes health insurance premiums expensive because the policy does not protect public health (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012). The contribution to health insurance premiums is one of the significant costs to businesses in the United States. Policies that prohibit drugs not only make drugs like marijuana illegal, but also treat the users being not protected by the law. As a consequence, their condition worsens and becomes expensive due to complications settled by public effort. In 2007, the white House documented that healthcare expense linked to substance abuse was $11 billion. When the federal government spends more on incarceration or prohibiting drugs, the cost is transferred to taxpayers as regular tax (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012).
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The high number of drug-related offenders in the federal prison system points that drug policies should be reformed to ensure that the number is not only reduced but also maintainable. There is no clear-cut solution to the United States drug problem. Effective fight against this social menace and minimizing substance abuse need a comprehensive strategy or policies that incorporate smart law enforcement, treatment of drug addiction, and alternatives to incarceration. Drug policy movement was primarily motivated by the 2007/2008 financial crisis that hit the world making it expensive to incarcerate offenders, precisely minor drug abusers. Since 2010, the Obama Administration has been at the forefront of developing drug policies that shift away from punitive or tough laws by addressing addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal offense. From such point of view, the number of drug offenders behind bars has dipped slightly. From the literature above, it is quite clear that incarceration and prohibitive drug policies result in more harm to the economy and drug users than systems that recognize drug addiction as a health issue with a need of health-oriented policies.