NEW YORK — Despite an increased emphasis on treatment and prevention programs in recent years, the Obama administration in its 2013 budget still requested $25.6 billion in federal spending on the drug war. Of that, $15 billion would go to law enforcement, interdiction and international efforts.
The pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance estimates that when you combine state and local spending on everything from drug-related arrests to prison, the total cost adds up to at least $51 billion per year. Over four decades, the group says, American taxpayers have dished out $1 trillion on the drug war.
What all that money has helped produce — aside from unchanged drug addiction rates — is the world’s highest incarceration rate. According to the Sentencing Project, 2.2 million Americans are in prison or jail.
More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes in 2010,according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that number has only just dipped below 50 percent in 2011. Despite more relaxed attitudes among the public at large toward non-violent offenses like marijuana use, the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses spiked from 74,276 in 2000 to 97,472 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white ones — even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs.
A chart produced by the American Civil Liberties Union shows just how staggeringly large the US prison population has grown.