Do prison sentences help with drug problems?

When America began its war on drugs campaign, it operated on the premise that punishing drug offenders would deter people from using or misusing drugs. As you may have noticed, over the past few years, lawmakers across the country stepped forward to challenge this belief. Many point to the fact that the opioid crisis continues to spiral out of control as proof that the war on drugs did not work.

The Pew Charitable Trusts has also weighed in on the issue to share that it sees no correlation between the length of drug sentences and drug use problems. Between 1988 and 2012, the length of time people spent in prison for drug sentences climbed to five years from two. Since then, America has not witnessed a corresponding drop in drug use and drug crimes.

Some of the problems

One problem Pew recognized is that drug sentences did not line up with the roles people played. Oftentimes, the alleged lower-level sellers on street corners in the neighborhood received lengthy sentences, compared to the kingpins.

Different states also have their own ways of tackling drug crimes, which further creates mixed results. For instance, even though Wisconsin has high drug use rates, the state also has low drug imprisonment rates and low drug arrest rates.

Some of the solutions

You might have noticed strong support from the general public for law enforcement to pursue other methods of tackling the drug problem. Over the past few years, federal and local governments have become more creative. Here are some of the many solutions they pursued:

  • Providing greater support for grandparents raising the children of substance abusers
  • Providing services for drug rehabilitation and mental health improvements
  • Providing pardons to people imprisoned for drug crimes who met certain criteria
  • Resorting to more sentences that involve volunteer work in place of doing time
  • Legalizing or decriminalizing the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana

Despite bipartisan support, no true nationwide overhaul of the system has taken place. Many jurisdictions still have high minimum sentences and judges often still aim to punish. Even so, Wisconsin remains one of the states that seem to be more lenient about how it tackles drug crime allegations.