Drug laws are a primary driver of mass incarceration in the world—wasting money, human potential and overcrowding prisons and jails.
Around half of all federal prisoners in the United States are incarcerated for a drug offense. In Brazil, approximately 22 percent (125,000 people) of the prison population is serving time for drugs. In Thailand, about 45 percent of the roughly 100,000 people in its prisons are there for drug-related crimes.
As the public servants who are tasked with maintaining order in overcrowded correctional facilities, prison officers are often the first to recognize that many people in their custody simply do not belong there.
“The current war on drugs is successful in creating further victims of acquisitive crime; increasing cost to the taxpayer to accommodate a higher prison population and allowing criminals to control and profit from the sale and distribution of class A drugs,” said the head of the UK Prison Governors Association, Eoin McLennan-Murray.
“A fundamental review of the prohibition-based policy is desperately required.”
Governor McLennan-Murray made these comments as he announced the Prison Governors Association’s support for the Count the Costs initiative, a collaborative project supported by Open Society Foundations that seeks a tally of the human and economic costs of current drug policies.
“The blanket prohibition on class A drugs allows criminals to control both the supply and quality of these drugs to addicts who turn to crime to fund their addiction,” added Governor McLennan-Murray.
“The Prison Governors’ Association believe that a substantial segment of the prison population have been convicted of low-level acquisitive crimes simply to fund that addiction.”
Around 15 percent of the UK’s prison population are serving time for drug-related offenses with many more serving time for crimes associated with drug dependency.
For more on these costs of the war on drugs, see the Count the Costs briefing “The War on Drugs: Creating Crime, Enriching Criminals.”
And if you haven’t already, please join the UK Prison Governors Association in supporting the Count the Costs initiative. You can do so by adding your name to the sign-on statement, which urges the UN and governments around the world to meaningfully count the costs of the war on drugs and explore the alternatives. Approximately 70 organizations, as well as public figures from around the world—including two former presidents—have already signed up in support.