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Do high incarceration rates curb drug abuse?

For decades, we have been told that coming down hard on all drug offenders is the best way to win the so-called War on Drugs. We have been reassured that the threat of mandatory minimum sentences and aggressive prosecution is necessary to keep people safe from the dangers of illicit drugs.

However, a recent analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that these philosophies are not accurate. According to research, high rates of arrest and imprisonment have no impact on drug use or overdoses.

Researchers looked at incarceration, arrest, drug use and overdose rates across states in the U.S. The assumption was that if aggressive punishment was effective, states with the highest incarceration and arrest rates would have the lowest drug use and overdoes rates.

However, there was no such pattern detected. 

Advocates for reforming federal drug policies argue that this recent data warrants a review of current policies, including the stance taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Recently, Sessions directed prosecutors to pursue the harshest punishment possible for drug offenders, even if they are non-violent and have never been convicted before.

While it is doubtful that one study will affect how state and federal lawmakers set, change and enforce drug laws, this research provides critical weight to the argument that current methods are at best ineffective. If the goal is to curb drug use and abuse, then locking up every offender does not appear to be getting us closer to that goal.

With all this being said, we urge anyone who is arrested or charged with a drug offense in Texas to take the situation seriously. Despite research like that discussed in this post, current drug laws and enforcement efforts favor harsh penalties for any drug-related crime, so working with an attorney to defend yourself against these penalties can be critical.

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