By Brianna Sheppard
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization calling for a reform to America’s drug policies, 1.55 million Americans were arrested in 2012 on nonviolent drug charges. The country spends millions of dollars each year trying to rid the streets of illegal drugs and incarcerating people who buy and sell them, but some people think there are more efficient ways to clean up the streets.
On Tuesday, Oct. 28, Bruce D. Stout, an associate professor and chair of the Criminology Department, led a lecture called “The Human and Fiscal Toll of America’s Drug War, New Jersey’s Experiences” that explored New Jersey’s role in America’s war on drugs.
The turnout for the lecture was exceptional, with every seat filled with people eager to hear about the war on drugs as seen through the lens of New Jersey. There was a plethora of subjects discussed, including the three phases of drug reform and law enforcement.
Stout also discussed how drug arrests have raised the convictions of blacks and Latinos to 96 percent, despite the fact that some of these arrests have been proven to be the result of racial profiling.
One of the main examples was an April 1998 incident on the Turnpike where two officers shot three men — one Hispanic, two black — during a routine traffic stop. The officers involved claimed that they had been taught to racially profile because “minority motorists are the people most likely to be carrying drugs.”
Of course, these ideas stem from an unfortunate past history of institutional racism and the “urban effect.” The “urban effect” refers to the type of people and areas that are affected by drug reform and the act of drug-free schools. In places such as Newark, Camden and Jersey City, there are few initiatives in place to keep juveniles from interacting with narcotics. Due to the rate of imprisonments doubling, the state prisons’ budget has risen from $289 million in 1987 to $1 billion in 2006.
Stout said that American society is basically paying to put and keep people in prison. However, Drug-Free School Zones are beginning discussions on how to resolve previously neglected issues while the Department of Justice has spearheaded reforms in prison sentencing. Most importantly, it is Stout’s hope that people currently serving time for drug offenses will receive proper rehabilitation and treatment before re-entering society. Combined, these initiatives could make a world of difference in both drug policy and the prison system.