by C. J. Oakes
The Drug War as we know it has been operating like a lemon car for over 42 years. I recently received an invitation from a friend to attend a seminar on the Drug War to be held on October 2, 2014 at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas and I naturally accepted the invitation.
That invitation somehow got me thinking about the Drug War in a very practical way and I came up with a simple, yet interesting analogy regarding this social experiment that I thought I should share here. My interest in Criminal Justice and Law began with the Drug War because as a youth growing up, I could see the results of the fighting the Drug War were more damaging to society than the ills created by the problem itself.
In 2001, I wrote a book tracing the roots of the modern Drug War, but for various reasons, have never published it. I plan to rectify that soon by rewriting an updated version. But the analogy I came up with recently is something most of us can relate to: The purchase of a lemon, a car that cannot be fixed. So take a brief ride with me now in that car.
What to do When Your Car has a Noise
So, you have just bought a new car. It is shiny and full of promise. You drive it off the lot with pride because it is going to solve a big problem in your life. It was time for a new car and now you have it.
A short time after buying your new car, you notice a noise in the engine, a rattle and a squeek. Clearly, there is a problem so you bring it to the dealership and after a short time, it is returned and seems fine. However, not long thereafter, the sound continues and you return to the car lot. Again, some work is done and you take the car home, only to have to return again. And again. And again.
After some time, the car goes out of warranty and you now have to pay for the work. Initially, the work costs just twenty or thirty bucks, but the problem remains. Eventually, things start to break down on the car and the costs increase. First a hundred, then a couple hundred dollars you put into fixing the problem. Then the costs increase still more as the car leaves you stranded. You continue to throw money at the problem because you just love the car.
Then it breaks down again and this time, the cost to repair is a couple thousand dollars. Still, you like the car so you pay it, hoping that you will resolve the problem. A short time passes and again, you must have repairs made, this time to the tune of several grand. Still, you keep the car.
Eventually, friends begin to tell you that it is time for a new car, but you love this car and refuse. “This is a great car,” you tell them as you fork out thousands more to mechanics. Eventually, even your wife is beating you over the head to get a new car, but you refuse because the car does get you where you want to go most of the time. It appears to be working fine…until the next breakdown. So you throw more money at the problem.
You are starting to have problems with your friends and family who all think you are nuts. You drive the car one day and something malfunctions causing you to crash and kill a family. But the car is still great you insist and get it repaired. Back on the road you go. The next malfunction causes you to be late for work and you lose your job–yet you keep the car.
You continue to drive the car despite the costs and the associated problems. Would people think you are crazy? Would you begin to question your own sanity?
The modern-day Drug War is just like that car–broken beyond repair. The Drug War is killing families in America at an alarming rate to the point that we now have the largest prison population in the world. In order to keep up with the demand for prisons created by the Drug War, we have built prisons at a rate which is unsustainable. We continue to throw money at a problem while only making a bad situation worse. At what point do we realize that what we are currently doing is a form of insanity?
If you would like to get an idea of just how many prisons there are in the nation today, take a look at this list of prisons in the United States.
We have an abundance of research and data today pointing to the conclusion that it is clearly time for a new car, a new approach, for the old approach is broken beyond repair. We do have a problem with Drugs in our society and something does need to be done, but locking up drug users is clearly not working.
The costs to society in terms of money and damage to families, especially minority families, is staggering–over $50 Billion dollars spent each year by the Federal Government and the states combined. It is getting to the point that the world is laughing at our stupidity, just as we laugh at an acquaintance who refuses to get rid of a car that is beyond repair.
Imagine what we could do in a more positive way with all that money. But that $50 billion is just the direct costs. This figure does not include the indirect costs associated with lost wages and children growing up without a parent. These costs are incalculable, but we know from research that they are just as damaging, if not more so, to society.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, known for starting new agencies, said in a Fireside Discussion which was aired by radio during his administration in 1933,
It makes sense to try something and if it works, good. If it doesn’t work, then frankly admit it and try something else.
We can use a leader like FDR today who is not afraid to admit when something is not working. It is time for a new car. It is time to end the Drug War as we know it and try something else.