Why People With Non-Violent Drug Charges Should Be Released From Prison
Living in a city that has cannabis dispensaries on every corner has always made me think about people who have been incarcerated for low-level marijuana offenses and how they must feel knowing that, in most places, cannabis is now legal. The very thing that put them behind bars is now easily accessible for many people. In my opinion, this is an easy thing to review and fix. Not only would it allow people who do not belong behind bars to be freed but it would also help with the overcrowding of prisons. I’m not saying we should just let everyone out of prison without first setting up a plan, but there could easily be a probation protocol put in place depending on the type and level of crime.
Every article I looked at recently mentioned that Covid was the reason we should be looking into this, as it has taken a serious toll on prisons since it hit. And while yes, Covid is a concern, this is something we should have looked into as soon as marijuana started becoming legal. If we had done so, maybe it would be easier to start releasing people and could have probably saved some lives. But shoulda, woulda, coulda. Now, we need to focus on what we can do to get these people out of prison.
In 2020, one out of every five people in prison are there for drug charges, and most of those are small possession charges. Many are serving time for distribution charges while now there are multi-million dollar companies doing just that, while others are serving time because they couldn’t provide bail or from testing positive on a drug test while on probation or parole. In a breakdown of what race the people are who are serving time for marijuana, more than 75% of people were POC. We know that people of color are targeted more for drug charges and in most cases, are sent to prison at a higher rate than white people.
The thing is that there are plenty of people who have been jailed that would have benefitted from a different type of punishment for their crimes. These people would have been better served if they had been sent to a treatment center, such as rehab. Others who had low-level crimes could have been given community service and probation rather than being sent to prison. When it comes to crimes related to marijuana, it seems that people think jail is the only option, but many of these people would benefit from other options.
In the 1970s, the war on marijuana started to become a serious issue for many people, but by the late 1970s, people of color were being convicted of drug-related crimes at a rate 24% higher than white Americans. States began passing laws that made sentences for these crimes much harsher and began creating new laws specifically aimed at drug offenders. While America’s crime rate did go down during this time, research shows that the rise of incarceration had little to do with that. Keeping people in prison costs over $30,000 a year, so continuing to lock people up is not as effective as other treatment options or new crime control methods.
Rather than only convicting people based on the crime itself, we also need to consider public safety. If people who need treatment go to prison instead of getting the help they need, when they are released they will most likely go back to their addiction whether it be drugs or crime. With public safety in mind, we need to rethink the punishment that is given to help people recover and return to a normal life.
The moment marijuana became legal in some states, we should have started looking into these low-level and non-violent drug cases and releasing those who should not have been put behind bars to begin with. I can’t imagine being in jail for something that you can now get in various shops and in various forms. It just truly shows how little we care about those who are behind bars. Prison should be for those who cannot be rehabilitated and those who have committed serious crimes, not for people who had weed on them at some point and were unfairly put away based on the laws at that time. The research is there, now it’s time to put in the work to establish a new way to handle these cases in the future, and look into the cases of the past.