[The] criminalization of narcotics is only used to reinforce prison slavery and classism. In Oregon, in October a couple months ago, 70% of state inmates were forced to work over 40 hours, and meanwhile, they are exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws. So, they make about a dollar a day. All drugs, including marijuana, should be decriminalized in the United States. To support this, first, I will provide background information regarding federal corrections– specifically in relation to drug crimes. Then I’ll discuss recidivism among drug users, the sentence lengths among drug users, then I will refute the argument about drug-related property and violent crimes. And lastly, I will discuss the poor health services that are available to drug users in prison.

Before addressing the issues with drug laws, we have to understand how large the prison population is and who is in it. We know that the majority of prisons have been privatized and participate in slave labor, because that is allowed by the thirteenth amendment [to the U.S. Constitution]. But before talking about statistics, I should explain 3 key terms, because they are kind of confusing. The “correctional population” refers to the population of everyone in the correctional system, and that includes prisons, jails, parolees, people on probation. The “prison population”, the way it’s used changes depending on curating the statistics, but usually it’s just the people that are in prison, but sometimes also in jails. And “recidivism” or “to recidivate” is to reoffend after one is released, directly caused by their imprisonment.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2014 approximated that 7 million people were in the correctional system. And to better understand this, here is a map of every state that has a smaller population than our correctional system in the entire nation.


In 2012, there were 180,000 incarcerated in federal prisons, not including state prisons, and 52% of these are related to drug crimes. So, you can see that it’s significant portion.

Prison population by most serious offenses

Drug offenses are a result of and create recidivism. Most federal drug offenders have a criminal history. And what’s interesting about this is that the Bureau of Justice Statistics prides themselves on this specifically. The categories are not very well defined, by basically, Category I is people who no or one offense, and it just increases as you get down to Category VI. Their claim is that the majority category is Category I, so there must not be very much recidivism. But they don’t really talk about how the majority of the population does have a criminal history. It’s obvious that recidivism does actually exist here. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 95% of all federal offenders use drugs after they are released.

Drug offenders by criminal history category

Next, I’ll talk about the sentence lengths and how that relates to antiblack racism in this country. Black and Latino people are way overrepresented in drug offenses, especially when compared to White people. 88% of all Black people arrested for drug crimes were related to crack [cocaine] specifically. This is important because, prior to 2010 when Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, crack offenses were considered 100x worse than cocaine offenses, so the sentence lengths were way longer than they were for the same amount of cocaine. This has changed, it’s no longer 100x longer, but it’s still 18x longer, so it still isn’t really equal. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 20% of all sentences that are longer than 20 years are for crack, and 40% of all sentences that are between 10 and 20 years are for crack. And it’s also important to know that White people in prison for drug crimes are mostly convicted of marijuana, meth, and “other” drugs such as oxycodone and ecstasy. Marijuana and “other” drugs have statistically the sentences of all drugs, at usually less than 5 years. The only drug that is predominantly used by Whites is meth, and their sentences don’t usually go longer than 20 years.

Drug offense population compared to national population by race

There is a valid concern for violent and property crimes that are committed by people that are under the influence. Although, the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that less than a quarter of all drug offenses had any gun involvement, and that includes just having a gun and not necessarily using it for anything. In 2004, over a quarter of federal prisoners were using drugs of any kind at the time of their arrest. However, with marijuana removed from that, it goes down to 12.4%.

The drug-related healthcare that is available to prisoners is not quality enough to provide actual treatment. The National Institute of Drug Abuse says that only about 16% of prisons have professional drug treatment programs. Only about half of them have any drug treatment programs. Most of these are self-help and peer-counseling groups which aren’t very effective at actually treating drug addiction.

Drug prohibition has no place in our society. It only exists to reinforce bourgeois supremacy, and it doesn’t actually positively impact people that are using drugs. So, instead of incarcerating people, I propose that we fight for improved treatment programs in our communities, because the familial and communal connections that are available to people outside of prison is much greater than for people in prison.

Questions from the Audience

Do you think that by making all these different drugs legal that that would increase the amount of crime and drug use?

Maybe, but drug decriminalization is not just decriminalizing it. It has to go with improved education, decreased police activity in communities of color, and better accessibility to treatment programs that are actually effective.

What do you think the future crime rates would look like in the short or long term if you decriminalized drugs?

I think it would go down.

Works Cited

  • American Civil Liberties Union. “Fair Sentencing Act.” ACLU: American Civil Liberties Union, Accessed 1 December 2016.
  • National Association of Drug Court Professionals. “The Facts on Drugs and Crime in America.” NADCP: National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Accessed 30 November 2016.
  • National Institute of Drug Abuse. “Drug Addiction Treatment in the Criminal Justice System.” United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health, National Institute of Drug Abuse, April 2014, Accessed 1 December 2016.
  • State of Oregon, Department of Corrections Research and Evaluation Unit. Ballot Measure 17 Report: Work and Program Activities by Institution. 15 November 2016.
  • State of Oregon, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Wage and Hour Division. State Laws Regulating Minimum Wage and the Payment of Wages. 12 August 2016.
  • United States, Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Census Bureau. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010. Government Printing Office, March 2011.
  • United States, Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Census Bureau. Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010. Government Printing Office, March 2011.
  • United States, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Survey of Prison Health Care: Selected Findings, no. 96. Government Printing Office, 28 July 2016.
  • United States, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Correctional Population in the United States, 2014. Government Printing Office, 21 January 2016.
  • United States, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Drug Offenders in Federal Prison: Estimates of Characteristics Based on Linked Data. Government Printing Office, October 2015.
  • United States, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004. Government Printing Office, October 2006.