Shorty and The Long View

Shorty and The Long View

Adrienne BoettingerFriday,17 July 2015

On July 11 Joaquin “El Chapo” (The Shorty) Guzman broke out of the Altiplano prison in Mexico. Although it was not the first time this narcotrafficker extraordinaire busted out of jail, the event stood out because he was able to escape with what seemed like incredible ease via a tunnel nearly one mile in length. He may look like a shiftier version of the Mario brothers but this sick, homicidal bastard with a third-grade education has turned the Sinaloa cartel into a multi-billion dollar business and he’s now on the run yet again.

The tales of El Chapo have got us thinking about the never-ending war on drugs. Countless resources have been used to attack the supply end of the drug trade and to what end? You take down one kingpin and two more pop up. But people will only produce something that other people want. This would suggest that we should favor approaches that attack the demand side of the drug market at least as much, if not more than, the supply side.

So let’s examine where the bulk of our efforts on the demand side go. It’s difficult to figure out how all the money in the $1 TRILLION war on drugs was spent but a big portion of that has gone to mass incarceration. In 2013 the highest number of arrests was for drug abuse violations. But mass incarceration and policies like mandatory minimums haven’t lowered crime and they certainly haven’t stopped drug use in the United States. That’s why we’ve seen some leaders who can’t even agree on pizza toppings agree that something has to be done about our national hobby of putting as many people in jail as humanly possible.

If mass incarceration isn’t the answer, what is? Although it pains us deeply to say this, President Nixon had a good idea — at least when he directed more than half of federal spending for the war on drugs to go to drug treatment rather than incarceration. Cities like Seattle have recently moved in this direction and are finding treatment more successful and less costly than incarceration.

The problem is the biggest challenges facing our society require complicated solutions that take time to work. For example, if you want to reduce crime in an area for any length of time you need to give people opportunities to make a living that aren’t illegal; if people can’t provide for themselves or their families, they’ll do whatever they have to in order to survive. As a society, we love a quick fix or at least the quick appearance of results, even if they don’t last very long. It’s easier (though costlier and less effective in the long run) to lock someone up than it is to rehabilitate them.

Now we’re not saying scum like El Chapo and others don’t deserve prison time. What we’re saying is that we need to think long and hard about what we want to achieve as a society and then find solutions that actually work rather than those that provide merely the appearance of results (or satisfy our desire for vengeance). President Obama’s recent commutation of the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders is a good step but it would be even better for Congress to do something (anything), like making the repeal of mandatory minimums retroactive.

Want to set a good example for Congress (and motivate them) by actually doing something? Contact your elected officials and tell them what you think of the war on drugs, mass incarceration, or the other major issues that keep getting put off until the next session.


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Hat Tips:

NPRCNNFBIUS News and World ReportBuzzFeedFamilies Against Mandatory MinimumsPBSHuffington Post, Image Credit: Flickr

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