Drug Use and Incarceration

Drug Use and Incarceration

Drugs and Criminality

Illegal drug use are a major problem for communities, law enforcement, politicians and families. Drugs can cause massive health problems, ruin relationships, contribute to losses in business, violence and kill people. Illegal drug manufacture, use and possession is prohibited for the negative effects that they can have. Illegal drugs are typically manufactured with substances that are toxic, harmful and drugs are often taken in ways that are not safe and in excess.

Drug addiction, however, is a disease, a medical condition that affects millions of people world wide. Drug addiction has long been criminalized as an issue that requires harsh punishment to stop people taking drugs. The United States spends billions of dollars annually on the criminalization of drugs and drug use without significant changes to the number of drug users or reductions in addiction rates. The most significant change that has been caused by this criminalization is the massive increase in the number of people in prison or under the watchful eyes of the criminal justice system for drug offenses.

Drug prohibition laws are intended to protect the safety of a society. Drugs can contribute to significant social and familial problems including violence and financial woes. Individuals who use drugs may participate in other criminal activities such as prostitution, assaults or robberies when they are under the influence of drugs or as a way to finance their drug addiction.

Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking is considered the most serious of all drug crimes and is often linked to organized crime. Drug trafficking is the critical link between supply and demand. It funds organized crime, terrorism and creates challenges for countries and law enforcement. Drug production and trafficking involves the manufacture of drugs and the shipping of said drugs to other countries and ports to meet demand. Corrupt border officials, ministers in governments and police are often bribed and coerced under threats of violence to work with criminals to ensure the illegal drugs are trafficked into countries without being stopped. This corruption can cause significant social problems.

War On Drugs

The War on Drugs was first popularized in America in the 1970’s as a strategy to reduce drug addiction and drug related crimes. This policy has been responsible for the successful reduction in drug trafficking in certain regions and the increased incarceration of drug addicts as a way to curb increasing drug usage rates. However, despite immense amounts of money being spent on zero-tolerance campaigns, increased incarceration rates for drug related offenses and significant efforts to reduce drug trafficking into the US, the number of drug users in America sits around 20 million people.

The war on drugs has been primarily a singular-focused effort to reduce drug use and drug related crimes. That focus has been on punishment and incarceration. For crimes such as drug trafficking and organized crime, law enforcement efforts are essential in deterring traffickers, reducing production and stopping gang violence. It is also important for halting corruption. But for people who suffer the affects of drug addiction, punishment is rarely a deterrent or a solution.


Incarceration is intended to be a deterrent to individuals who may be considering committing a crime. The punishment for drug offenses including use, possession or trafficking varies from country to country. Some countries such as Portugal, have decriminalized offenses relating to the possession or use of drugs while other countries such as the USA have mandatory sentencing laws for drug related crimes which include specified non-parole periods. Drug trafficking remains a significant criminal offense in most countries around the globe, with the death penalty being applied in some nations.

Prisons are typically violent places with reports of prisoner related physical and sexual violence common. They are also a place where drug use is rampant. When a person is imprisoned for a drug-related crime, they may be there for possession of marijuana. But in prison they may be encouraged or pressured to take drugs that are on offer inside the cells, typically intravenous drugs such as methamphetamine or heroin. Both these drugs have a high risk of addiction and also increased risk of contracting blood-borne viruses such as HIV or Hepatitis.

There are some advocates who believe that there is cruelty in sentencing people to time in prison when they have a drug addiction problem. If a person is prosecuted, they will already have significant family, social and work related problems and the increased burden of a prison sentence sometimes is too much.

Rehabilitation and Treatment

Prison sentencing for drug addicted individuals can be a particularly painful and difficult time. Often enforced at a time when their drug problem is at its greatest, many inmates struggle with withdrawals, social problems and violence while they are seeing out their sentence. Rehabilitation and drug treatment are typically not offered to inmates, even though rehabilitation significantly reduces the risk of re-offending.

People who are given the opportunity to learn life skills, employment skills and coping skills when in prison have a better chance of being able to change their life. It also increases the chance that they can stop using drugs and get over their addiction. Skill development has long been found to be a key element of people who are trying to recover from a drug or alcohol addiction. It helps people to learn how to resist temptation, find enrichment in life away from substances and how to cope with stress and anger.