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Criminal Justice System- War on Drugs

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 5408 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper will tackle the issue of the criminal justice system in relation to the social justice system on the issue of war on drugs as started by Richard Nixon in 1972 and will look at the effects of certain policies, the loopholes being exploited and several views from people about the way the criminal justice system tackles the issue of drugs. The paper will focus on the contemporary issues that are related to the criminal justice and social justice systems.

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First, this paper will review the facts as they stand and as they were presented earlier. It has been noted that there are about 500,000 drug related incarcerations in the US. In 1999, it was noted that 1.532 million Drug related arrests were made and this was equivalent to 10.9% of all arrests in that year. According to findings, the prison population in the US is the largest in the world with drug related convictions forming a substantial part of these at 25% in 1998 are also noted for 1999. These have led to the correctional facilities being filled up by drug offenders.

The treatments that are accorded for the incarcerated offenders and the methods like medication using drugs like methadone being described are then discussed. The discussion will also include alternative treatments. These treatments include the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, educational enhancement programs for juveniles and vocational training.

Lehigh (1993) reveals that the cost of these treatments and their outcomes are then analyzed with treatment for a single case being put at about USD 2,940 while the benefit to society due to this treatment in reduced crime and incarceration costs being put at USD 9,170 in the period 1993 to 1995. The outcomes of these treatments showed a positive effect since the tax payer saved 3dollars for every dollar spent on treatment and also because the individuals who underwent the treatment showed reduced chances of going back to drug engagement as opposed to those who did not go through the treatment.

Incarceration alternatives are then discussed at with options such as treatment of the offenders in hospital-like facilities instead of prison sentences being mooted. The next issue to be discussed is the widely growing clamor for the legalization of marijuana. Notable developments including the more relaxed approach to criminal prosecution of drug offenses and preference of treatment alternatives by the new administration, the increasing attention given to pro marijuana organizations by the media, the seemingly apathetic enforcement of marijuana laws by some police force and the new positions being taken at the United Nations will be discussed in detail. Their effects on the growing clamor for drug legalization are analyzed as the section concludes by airing the views of those who want things to remain as they are. Pursuant to this the year 2000 Proposition 36 of California is discussed with regards to its attempts to lessen the penalties for non-violent possession or use of drugs (Cassese, p.65).

The concentration of law enforcement agencies in the pursuit of individual users as opposed to the large gangs and cartels that produce and distribute these drugs is then tackled. The links of the Mexican cartels and the Salvadorian MS-13 gang that has a strong presence in the US at 20,000 buoyed by the post 9/11 concentration on terrorism by the law enforcement agencies is looked at. Descriptions of their links and the threats that they pose other than their distribution of drugs in the US are also noted. Other gangs like the bulldogs and F-13 are then discussed.

To end the paper an analysis of the perceived racial bias that the war against drugs has taken with the implementation of the criminal justice system being regarded as biased towards the incarceration of minorities in the African American, Latino and Native American populations. Cases are cited like the prevalence of drug related busts in these populations neighborhood and the increased likelihood of black persons being arrested of drugs use being incarcerated. The issue of different punishment under the law for use of crack cocaine and powder cocaine is also discussed as being racially discriminative of the African American population.

An Examination of the Law Enforcement Issues

Law enforcement in the United States has become synonymous with various factors coming into play. Generally, under the laws of the US, it is a crime to possess, use, distribution and/or manufacturing of drugs like marijuana, opium and cocaine since they are considered illegal. Investigations on the various ways of curbing drug abuse among the youth have been carried out by the law enforcement agencies through the police. For instance, in the New York schools, random testing to establish the students who use these drugs has been introduced so as to assist in rehabilitating the students. The US has about 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the prison population in the world; these are about 3 million and on parole there are 5 million. Out of this number the people who were held for drug related offences were 500,000 in 2008(Webster, 2009).

In 2001, The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a fact sheet on the state of the criminal justice system’s pursuit and addressing of drug related offenses. According to the sheet, 21percent of incarcerations at federal facilities in the US were drug related while those being locally supervised were reported at 26 percent in 1998. The fact sheet estimated that an average of 71% of the persons incarcerated in the countries jails had abused drugs at some time while the average for the entire population of the USA was estimated to make up 40%. A statement in the sheet quoted the FBI as having made up to 1.532 million arrests that were drug related making up 10.9 percent of all the arrests made in 1999.

The numbers of incarcerations cut across the sexes with males being dominant at 7000 shy of a million and females were recorded to be more than 80,000 in 1997. Females in state prisons were found to have been most likely under the drugs influence when they committed the offences. The use of the drugs was estimated to have been 4 weeks leading to their offense; these statistics were reversed for the sexes in federal prisons. The cost of maintaining the prisoners was for both sexes were found to be equal. The sheet revealed that the amount of money spent on incarceration of individuals with charge that were related to drug offenses in 1996 was USD 30 billion.

Application and Operation of the Criminal Justice System The criminal justice system in the United States is largely guided by the United States Constitution. For instance, the anti-drug abuse treatment is provided in accordance to the Violent Crime Control and Law enforcement Act (p.7) by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to the prisoners that were eligible before their release time. This treatment is provided through transitional programs that were both residential and also non-residential. This treatment aims at reducing the expenses that are incurred by the society as a result of crimes that were drug related. It also ensures that the drug victim goes back to productive life in the society free of desires to use illegal drugs.

Inmates in relation to drug abuse as a criminal offence and how it is dealt with;

Who are just about to be freed and are living in halfway houses are offered transitional services. These services include counseling and support services. The inmates in the detoxification program are isolated from the general population and are put in treatment units specially designed for detoxification. The non-residential section has programs that are not limited to a single place but move around to the perceived areas that need education and counseling on drug related issues.

Fields (p.12) insinuates that it was estimated that 77.5 percent of the inmates in correctional facilities required treatment for substances abuse. In reality, fewer than 11 percent out of the 77.5 percent were actually getting the treatment in 1997 with 30 percent receiving treatment in facilities that are specially designed. Almost 2 percent of them were in hospitals while the others were being treated while in general facilities for all inmates regardless of crime.

There are many modalities covering areas such as cognitive behavioral therapies and drug based medication. One of them is pharmacological maintenance whereby the participants are subjected to medication that acted in place of the desired drug. This gradually eliminates the need felt by the inmate or it blocks the drugs effects on an individual. Levo-alpha-acetymethadol a long-acting opioid maintenance compound was also used to surpass the requirement for daily clinic visits for those using methadone.

The specific drugs that were in use in 1999 were Buprenrphinand narcotic analgesic. Buprenrphinand was used to antagonize opioids like Heroin in the bloodstream, Naltrexone also opioid antagonistic inhibits the effects attributed to opioids that reduced an individual’s need for the use of the drugs and Methadone. The narcotic analgesic was used in the place of opiate derivatives such as morphine and codeine.

It was also reported that inmates were attending outpatient treatments and psychotherapies that were held formally with professional counselors informally held with peers. These sessions included the use of cognitive behavioral therapies that aimed at changing the reasoning of the individual as to what drove them to the abuse of the substance. Vocational therapy and peer group support structure like those made famous by the Alcoholics Anonymous were used during the sessions. Acupuncture was also mooted as an alternative used in conjunction with counseling to aid in decreasing the physical desire for drugs and the symptoms that are contributed to the denial of accessing the drugs.

Other means that were in use to aide abusers were the Multimodality programs. These offered a combined treatment regime that incorporated treatments such as methadone medications, family and psychotherapy. This therapy was combined with education enhancement which was for inmates that were of school-going-age, stress management and vocational training techniques.

An aftercare program was and still is in use with all the described counseling methods being used over a twelve step sessions /meetings o prevent the inmates from relapsing on their abusive ways an. Recovery training and additional vocational training is also done to help in the full recovery of these individuals.

Webb (p.4) states that there are insufficient programs to promote the well being and support offenders who have recovered and are trying to fit back into society. Still there are people who feel that the correctional system is not doing enough to treat these inmates. They cited the addictive properties of some of the treatments as replacing one master for another. This fact led to the Office of National Drug control Policy Reauthorization act of 2006 which was aimed at overcoming the addiction tendencies developed by the patients who were treated using Opioid analgesic drugs.

Drug abuse related crime investigation techniques are many. The laboratory method may be employed in most advanced cases. This is where evidence is collected and put in preservation bags for court presentation when bringing up the case. The presented evidence is then transported to the central database centre where it is kept safely. The most ardent technique is the one that involves the use of detectives who basically investigate the alleged crime committed.

The costs and outcomes of treatment According to the National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the mean cost per episode of treatment of substance abuse inmates between 1993 and 1995 was reportedly said to be USD 2,940. The mean gain to society was estimated at USD 9,170 per treated individual this save the society an impressive three dollars for every one dollar spent (Fields, p.17). This was considered a success. The profit was realized from the fact the costs that were footed by society for the purpose of treating and compensating drug related crime damages were greatly reduced since these individuals were made more productive to society.

The BOP survey of inmates that were fully treated and released before 1996 revealed the success program. The BOP survey showed that there was a low probability of the individuals who went through the treatment to rearrest in the first half-year of their release. There was 3.3 percent possibility or rearrested in comparison 12 percent possibility for the individuals who were released without undergoing through the treatment. In the post-release period 20 percent of those that had received treatment were reported to use drugs while in the same period, 36 percent of those that didn’t seek treatment while incarcerated.

Relating Social Justice to Criminal Justice Basically social justice describes a form of justice system whereby justice is assured in all aspects of the community. An example of social justice is whereby the society as a whole works together in to stop the penetration of drugs in the community by curbing and ending drug use among the youth. Social justice requires high commitment from the community and their good will to be socially responsible. This because according to critics, the criminal elements are well known to the community and therefore it would be easier to identify and eliminate these criminals.

Criminal justice describes a justice system where justice achievement is based on law enforcement agencies which use their policies in reinforcing law and order within the community setup. From as early as 1993, there have been widespread complaints about the criminal justice system. It was complained that the system, in its war against drugs, took in many prisoners who were termed as petty dealers and passive abusers and this left the system in a crisis. These allegations were backed by the American Bar Association.

At the floor of the US senate, these sentiments were backed up by Virginia senator Jim Webb who accused the system of going dramatically wrong by quote ‘swamping the prison system with drug offenders’. Treatment has been viewed as one of the most efficient alternatives to incarceration and the persuasive abilities of the criminal justice system to get offenders into treatment and to have them follow the regimes efficiently, with little degradation of the peace of communities was seen with the creation of Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC) program in the 70’s.

The communities were required to provide the requisite treatment under the criminal justice system prescription while TASC role was to monitor the program as it progressed. This was done to ensure the offender was making progress in their treatment as well as comply with the criminal system prescription.

Criminal Justice and Social Justice in relation to Incarceration The criminal justice system and the social justice system handle incarceration in different ways. In the social justice system, incarceration is carried out in accordance to the social setting to the community. The criminal justice system handles incarceration according to the procedure that has been laid down in the Constitution of the state which is supreme. The correlation between these to systems will be closely examined in this paper. Examples from drug related cases will be used. The attitudes towards the use of illegal drug which is a common activity all over the US have been seen to change over the last months. Reportedly, there are at least 30 groups that are pushing for the legalization of the use of marijuana including Marijuana Policy Project whose members have reported increased attention from mainstream media that wanted to discuss the issue. Open discussion on the issue of lifting the ban with the aim of reducing the growing numbers of inmates held in custody for drug relate crimes such as possession and abuse of marijuana are being carried out.

Subsequently, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws reported the presence of thirty-six different marijuana legalization bills that were pending in 24 states in mid-march 2009. This shifting attitude is being attributed to the baby-boom generation that used this drug heavily in the 60’s and are now controlling the instruments of power. Opinion polls carried out in California also show a slim majority of respondents, 54 percent were in support of the legalization. Proponents of legalization argue that this will alter the current problem that is attributed to law and order due to the violence that is occurring from the Mexican suppliers of most of this drug to a problem of public health since the regulators will be analyzing and setting quality standards. They also attach the huge monetary benefits that will accrue due to the reduction of spending on enforcement of bans and the amounts that will come in due to the tax that will be gained from the legalization of the trade.

In addition, the findings of the Nixon initiated and rejected 1972 Shafer report that found that the users of and marijuana itself bore no significant harm to the public and recommended the withdrawal of penalties given to the individual users and also small-scale distributors. Further support for this crusade comes from the unlikely quarters of the UN World Drug Report of 2009 that argued the legalization case. The report lauds much praise on the Portuguese decriminalization policy that not long ago was castigated for encouraging the drugs proliferation. The report roots for the non-custodial detention of drug offenders who are not perceived to be dangerous. The report argues that it is of no benefit to confine people caught with drugs and they should be directed to options for treatment options since the package is already confiscated.

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Perhaps the biggest support to this issue has come from the moderate stance that is being taken by Gil Kerlikowske the new head of the White house’s ONDCP. His comments suggest that the new administration will deal with the drugs issue as more of a health issue as opposed to a criminal issue and gave credence to treatment instead of incarceration.

The Seattle police have also openly admitted that their enforcement of marijuana related laws has been lax preferring to deal with other serious crimes (Fields, p.21). As always there have been dissenting voices that propose sticking with the current situation they have termed the changing perceptions as hogwash saying that drug offenders do not just need treatment but they should also be punished for breaking the law.

Moreover, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police James Pasco adds that offenders should be shown the repercussions of breaking the laws. They see the drive to legalize marijuana as start in the debate for the all drugs legalization. This observation is quite true as many of the pro-legalization organizations attest to this fact openly. Those against legalization view legalization as the opening of the floodgates to careless use and putting the non-using population in danger. They would have preferred footing the increasing cost of enforcement than see them repealed. These views are increasingly being marginalized especially in public debate as the more vocal advocators of legalization spread the message. At the senate, one senator voted against Mr. Kerlikowske’s suggestions, Senator Tom Cobum of Oklahoma was concerned with the developing permissive attitude in the country with regard to anti-marijuana law enforcement.

California’s proposition 36 In California 30% of the inmates are being held for drug related offenses that involved simple possession and use charges and very few being arrested for distribution of drugs. This fact has led to the believe that the punishment Due to this many believe that the punishment measured out at the drug criminals is not equivalent to nature of their crimes. In 2000 a there was a proposition for the deferment of sentencing from the prisons to facilities for treatment after the conviction of an offender.

This proposition proposed that the offenders should be sentenced to probation if and only they had gone through the drug treatment program and completed it. It also advocated for offenders convicted with misdemeanors crimes like violence to be ineligible for these provisions. The chance to choose whether or not to participate in these programs were given to offenders after they were convicted and the repercussions of their convictions were made clarified to them. One of the cases where the offender was allowed to choose and decide whether to go into treatment or proceed with punishment and pay the fine was the case of the diminutive fine of USD100 proscribed for the possession of marijuana.

Participation of offenders in the program was a probationary term. There were no specification on how the offenders were to be treated; it was the judge who defined it during the hearing of the case. So this was basically done on case by case basis. The procedures for ensuring quality healing were not specified in the proposition but there was a twelve months maximum period of treatment but the minimum period was not given. Probation officers were to monitor the progress of the participants with regard to the treatment and to accordingly advice the court.

At the time, the data on the California probationers did not assist the cause for this law, this is because the data revealed that up to a third of the probationers were rearrested 12 months into their probation and this cast doubt on the treatments’ effectiveness. Another observation was that the law would have shifted the treatment burden to public institutions with more treatment of synthetic drugs in the future being seen as compared to Heroin which was the leading drug being treated at that time. It was also found that the system that existed then was not sufficient enough for handling the expected large numbers.

Previous experience with implementation of legislation in California like the three strikes law also worked to the deflation of confidence in this proposition with analysts believing that the implementation would be varying from the court house and location. The number of plea bargains was also projected to increase with the implementation and the fear that a good number of the offenders sent to community-based treatment will not adhere to the treatment plan (Brownlie, p.74). Differences were expected in the implementation of the law where definitions were not as clear and the implementation of this law was linked with an increase with possession-for –sale charges thus creating a newer problem.

War on drugs: gangs and cartels It has been noted that the drug war, instead of focusing on the drug cartels and gangs that distribute the drugs and met violence on the population at an approximated 1million people, it focused on the individual non-violent offenders suffering from addiction or mental illness (Webb, p.27). The ABA panel back in 1993 warned that the sharp rise in incarceration of harmless low level drug offenders was depleting the resources that were needed to combat more serious often violent crime (Lehigh, p.3).

As the criminal justice system turns the heat on the individual users the gangs are prospering given the major support they receive from Mexican drug cartels. There are many gangs in America, and they have nationwide reach. According to Webster (p.9) American gangs are doing brisk business for Mexican drug cartels that supply them with drugs which they then sell down the drug sale chain to smaller gangs and drug addicts. These small gangs collect money for the cartels and the other hand; the cartels enforce punishments that are to be meted to any individual who crosses their path or defaults in their dealings.

Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 mafia is one of these gangs whose’ leaders are being incarcerated in some state prisons like California. This gang was founded by Salvadorians in the 80’s in Los Angeles. It is involved in the smuggling of drugs and people across the border, and accused of raping and assaulting many immigrants. This gang has a trademark of leaving a dismembered corpse with a decapitated head in crime scenes; their involvement in crime is not restricted to drugs as they willingly involve themselves in crimes that they feel are good for their reputation. The FBI has reacted by creating a joint task force with the DEA and ICE aimed at countering the MS-13.

The Columbian Cali cartel is another cartel though not as powerful. Both of these cartels have adopted international corporation management style. They have multilevel management starting from the cocaine production sites in South America’s Columbia and Venezuela among other countries up to the highly networked Mexican cartels with valuable smuggling routes to the US and they also have well established networks for distribution within the US.

Another network is the opium trade that starts in Afghanistan finds its way to Mexico and then returns to America. These drugs are brought to Mexico by gangs from former soviet states who usually buy them from Afghanistan. The high profits obtained from the sale of these drugs are responsible for their continuity. For instance, processed cocaine goes for about USD 1500/kg in Columbia while in the streets of US, it sells for about USD 66,000/ kg representing a 4300% profit margin making it worth the risk that is involved (Tierney, p.44). This drug money is said to have become an integral part of the Mexican economy with vast regions involving themselves in the planting of marijuana and poppy for opium.

The MS-13 is suspected to be in plans to smuggle terrorists into the US after it was seen meeting members of Al-Qaeda in Honduras. Another gang the F-13 had its members arrested and in the Los-Angeles area after shootouts with the African-American gangs trying to capture their drug distribution networks (Lehigh, p.34).

These statistics show where the criminal justice system should lay its emphasis on, that is stopping the drugs from entering into the US. These facts also paint a deem picture about the call for legalization of drugs as this would be tantamount to supporting these criminal organizations and giving them funds to continue their reign of terror on the American public and the citizens of the countries that the members come from.

Impact of Drug Policies on the Criminal Justice System Jensen, Gerber and Mosher (p.6) suggest that criminologists have realized that the criminal justice system has been fundamentally changed in direct response to the current war on drug. Since the beginning of the war on drugs, the number of prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes has increased. The criminal justice system has been forced to quickly make sweeping changes in policy to ensure the requirements of the war on drugs are met. 

Furthermore, prisons that were already overcrowded have been stretched to the limits of their capacities and more so that the construction of new prisons soon became necessary. This rapid influx of prisoners did not allow criminal justice professionals adequate time to research whether alternative measures to incarceration such as treatment or rehabilitation for less serious offenses would be more effective than simply imprisoning every individual convicted of a drug crime regardless of extenuating circumstances.

A proactive approach to prevent drug crimes from occurring in the first place would serve society far better than the current system of reactively arresting, convicting and imprisoning people, then dealing with the myriad societal problems created by the criminal justice process. Imprisoning large numbers of people for long periods of time without regard for the seriousness of the crime they have committed and the subsequent long term effects of that incarceration, is neither beneficial to society nor is it fair to the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system lacks sufficient resources to handle the increasing number of drug prisoners who are constantly jailed without any feasible option being present on the ground at the time of their conviction. It is indeed evident that according to Jensen, Gerber and Mosher (p.24) building more prisons would not be a prudent step to take.

Authorities must therefore put their heads together in ensuring that they achieve this in the nearest time possible as the criminal justice system is choking from a host of problems. The solution therefore seems to lie in conducting a thorough research in order to determine the potential punishments that could be employed without restraining the criminal justice system.

Capstone Model: Modern Criminal and Social Justice Issue

The fight against drug related crime is one of the most modern issues in the social are as well as the criminal area. This is more so true in relation to race. The relationship between drug use and race a modern dilemma that is facing the law enforcement agencies on a daily basis. This capstone model is aimed at establishing this relationship. The American Bar association from as early as the late 80’s, had noted drug related arrest rates for minorities were far much greater than those of the majority. There has been a definite connection observed between racial biases and the way the war on drugs has been carried out.

It is argued that Native Americans, blacks and Latinos have borne the brunt of the war against drugs with a disproportionate number of these communities being incarcerated as compared to white majority (drug policy alliance, p.1). The alliance claims that racial profiling has dominated the investigation and prosecution of drug related crime with the police holding street drug bust operations in low income areas that are dominated by black and Latinos. In fact, members of minorities who are users of psychoactive drugs have in greater proportions been arrested and punished through prosecution in the criminal justice system instead of being taken to health care institutions to be medicated and reformed

There is an argument that the courts charging system is racially biased, sentencing is marred with discrimination and that those in charge of guarding the system from issues like discrimination are not doing their work. In a report by human rights watch it is quoted that the black community represents 74% of the people sent to prison for drug-related offences even though they make up 13% of the drug users population (Belenko, p.17). In comparison to white people, the blacks and Latinos have a13 times more likelihood of being incarcerated in prisons. Latinos and Native Americans are also not spared with the former being 50% of the entire marijuana-related arrests and the latter forming approximately 66% of those being prosecuted for these offenses at Federal level (Maxfield and Babbie, p.31).

It was claimed that the war on drugs as carried out has encouraged the construction of prisons in rural US ostensibly to accommodate the swelling numbers of the minor population being arrested offenses that are drug related. Much cynicism is also attached to the treatment of minorities with many in the criminal justice system falsely believing that most crimes are attributable to minorities and that most minorities are involve in crime. The alliance also claims that much more attention is given to minority neighborhoods and therefore more arrests and convictions of the minorities. Consequently, a large number of these communities will be incarcerated; the skewed opinion is thus perpetuated (Drug Policy Alliance, p.2).

The introduction of treatment and education programs, common in the white middle class communities, in the low-income minority neighborhoods was suggested as alternative instead of constructing more prisons


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