The Lost Drug War in Connecticut
How Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Are Spent to Accomplish Nothing
Scott Levine May 1995
--->Millions of Americans, including nearly half of all high school seniors got high
last year on one illegal substance or another. Nationwide 37% of all persons
over the age of 12 (more than 77 million people) report that they have used
illicit drugs at least once in their lifetimes. (Fact Sheet: Drug Data Summary,
1994) That is a startling number of "criminals."
Connecticut, like most of the country, is getting tough on drugs. Our prison
population has risen from under 6,000 in 1986, to nearly 15,000 at the end of
1994. (Governor Rowland) The cost of this incarceration has likewise risen,
though a bit faster, from under $100 million to over $400 million in that same time.
In the five years from 1986 to 1991, prison populations nationwide increased by
58%. 44% of this increase was due to persons sentenced for drug offenses. For
Connecticut these numbers are probably low. Connecticut's prison population has
risen more than 150% in just nine years. Not surprisingly, drug offenders make
up a greater proportion of inmates in Connecticut than in many other states.
Drug offenders make up 30% of the prison populations in the northeastern states
as opposed to 20% in other parts of the country. (See table 1-1)
Given this, and the fact that many of the figures that I will use here reflect
national averages, please keep in mind that the actual numbers in Connecticut
will be as much as 50% higher than those I cite.
Who Is Incarcerated?
The Drugs & Crime Data Center & Clearinghouse reports that as early as 1989 23%
of all local jail inmates nationwide were drug offenders, 12% traffickers and
10% users. The other 1% are usually prescription violators of some kind.
(Drugs and Crime Facts, 1992, p18) Again, adjust these figures upward several
percent for Connecticut's prisons.
Another group of inmates are persons sentenced for crimes committed to obtain
money for drugs. The need to smuggle and black-market drugs has pushed their
prices much higher than legitimate market forces would. In Survey of State
Prison Inmates, 1991, Beck et al report that 17% of all inmate have committed
their respective crimes to obtain money for drugs. (p22 fig 48) Since "all
offenses" includes drug offenses where crimes to obtain money for drugs make up
22% of the total, let us adjust this 17% figure slightly downward for the
remaining categories of crime and say that 15% is reasonable. (See Table 1-2).
15% of the remaining 70% of the inmate population is 10.5% bringing our total
number of persons incarcerated as a result of drug prohibition to over 40% of
the inmate population.
Percent of Inmates
Who Committed Offense
To Get Money for Drugs
Current Offense All Inmates 17% Violent 12% Property 26% Drugs 22% Public Order 5%
Source Beck p 22
It is difficult to say to what extent drug trafficking generates other crime,
but this other crime is the most dangerous. There is, for instance, a great
deal of violence attendant on drug trafficking. In a study on drug-related
homicide the FBI determined that between 5.6 and 7.4% of all homicides are drug-
law related. (Between 1.1 and 1.6% were committed by persons under the
influence of drugs). (FBI: Crime in the U.S., 1992, table 213, p 21)
Information compiled by the Drugs & Crime Center Clearinghouse (Drugs & Crime
Data, August 1994) shows as many as 44% of homicides in some cities being drug-
traffic related. It is not very well documented, but it is clear that a number
of Connecticut's most dangerous inmates are incarcerated as a result of their
involvement with our drug laws.
Here in Connecticut, as in the rest of the nation, thousands of citizens are
incarcerated because an aberration in our system of laws makes it illegal to
ingest certain substances.
In 1991, when Connecticut's prison operating budget was a modest $250 million or
so, the Office of National Drug Control Policy(ONDCP) reported that the state
spent $429 million on its drug control efforts. The Connecticut Department of
Corrections accounted for $294 million of that, (the portion of the prison
building and operating expenses determined to be attributable to drug crime.)
In addition to these expenses ONDCP reported that Connecticut's police forces
spent $29 million at a state and local level to combat drug crime. Our courts,
prosecutors and public defenders spent $17 million more. (ONDCP, p13)
So the question arises; what did we get for our money? The answer is not much.
We created jobs. That's a fact. We created $429 million dollars worth of jobs,
but there is no evidence that drug use is on the decline in the state, no
evidence that drug availability is on the decline, or drug prices. There are no
signs that headway is being made. If anything drugs are slightly cheaper and
slightly stronger than ever, sure signs that they are slightly more available.
(Drug Enforcement Administration)
Police proponents would have us believe that more money and greater powers for
more effective repression will turn the tide. It is time we stopped fooling
ourselves about this. Drugs flow into this country, and into this state,
because Americans want them. If the law were totally effective at least one
third of our adult population would be behind bars.
The Prohibition Parallel
Our society does permit the use of certain drugs. Alcohol and nicotine are the
most popular, along with caffeine. The latter is a relatively benign intoxicant
in its popular form, but the other two are not quite that. The consumption of
alcohol caused an estimated 100,000 deaths in 1991 (Benjamin/Miller, p168,) and
420,000 people died from smoking related illnesses that year. (Centers for
Disease Control) The number of deaths by drug ingestion was less than 6,000
(Drug Alert Warning System). Nearly the same number of Americans use drugs as
smoke tobacco, (40 million as opposed to 48 million) (Centers for Disease
Control, Benjamin/Miller p 180.) which makes the disparity in health problems
more astonishing. We have chosen to make heroin illegal and tobacco available in
every corner store. Whatever the reasoning behind this choice, I think the
relative safety of the two products can be ruled out. If an all out effort was
called for to change peoples habits, a poor choice was made on where to place
In 1920 the 18th amendment to the Constitution made it illegal to consume
alcohol. In that year alcohol consumption dropped by more than 70%.
(Benjamin/Miller, p17) By the end of Prohibition in 1933, the rate of
consumption was higher than ever.
In addition to this, hard liquor, which was more readily available on the black
market, became the alcoholic beverage of choice as opposed to beer or wine. As
with drugs today, the stronger, more concentrated form of alcohol was easier to
smuggle. Today refined cocaine, heroin and potent hybrid marijuana have replaced
the coca beverages, opium and low grade marijuana of pre-drug-prohibition days.
The clandestine user looks for more bang for his buck. This is not progress.
As with alcohol prohibition, millions of Americans now find themselves on the
wrong side of the law, as criminals. Drug-running gangs have assumed the roles
formerly played by the likes of Al Capone and Dutch Schultz. Gunfire is again a
common sound on city streets. During Prohibition the murder rate rose 25% to a
record high. Assaults with firearms also set new records. Eight years after
repeal both figures had dropped by a third. The murder rate fell for eleven
straight years. (Benjamin/Miller, p21) A repeal of drug prohibition should net
us a similar result.
I am not advocating the recreational use of drugs of any sort. This paper is
not about that. This paper is about arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating
people, many of whom have committed no crime other than to "get high," the
criminalization of which is difficult to justify in a free society. It is about
the hundreds of millions of our tax dollars being spent in a vain attempt to
eradicate a black market that millions of our fellow citizens demand the
existence of. It is about calling honest, if slightly misguided, people
criminals, and encouraging the formation of gangs of cold-blooded killers to
serve them. Again, as back in the "roaring twenties" of alcohol prohibition, we
are losing. That's what this paper is about.
Narcotics Anonymous has a saying that insanity is making the same mistakes and
expecting different results. Nowhere is insanity more evident than in our so-
called war on drugs. This is, by any name, a war on our own citizens. It's
goals are unattainable; its costs are phenomenal; and its record of
accomplishment simply doesn't exist. It is insanity on a grand scale. It is
time to repeal the prohibition of drugs.
Allen Beck, Darrell Gilliard, Lawrence Greenfeld, Caroline Harlow, Thomas
Hester, Louis Jankowski, Tracy Snell, James Stephan, Danielle Morton "Survey of
State Prison Inmates, 1991" Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 1993
Benjamin, Daniel K. and Roger Leroy Miller "Undoing Drugs: Beyond Legalization"
Basic Books 1991
Centers for Disease Control "MMWR," June 27 1994 (As reported by the Coalition
on Smoking OR Health)
Domestic Unit of the Strategic Intelligence Section, Drug Enforcement
Administration "Illegal Drug Price/Purity Report: United States: January 1991-
June 1994" November 1994
Drugs & Crime Clearinghouse "Drug Abuse deaths as Reported by DAWN (Drug Alert
Warning Network)" December 19. 1994
Drugs & Crime Data Center & Clearinghouse "Fact Sheet: Drug-Related Crime"
Drugs & Crime Data Center & Clearinghouse "Drugs and Crime Facts, 1992" March
Office of National Drug Control Policy "State and Local Spending on Drug
Control Activities: Report from the National Survey of State & Local
Governments" October 1993
Rowland, Connecticut Governor John G. "Proposed Budget 1995-96"
Scott Levine (email link)
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