Philadelphia is finally beginning to adopt progressive policies on minor drug offenses; it’s about time.
Larry Krasner, Philadelphia District Attorney, said Feb. 15 that his office dropped 51 marijuana charges, according to Newsweek. He indicated that any cases solely regarding possession of marijuana, presumably with no intent to sell, would be dropped.
Our prison systems are among the least modernized social institutions, and we lead the world in total prison population. In addition, our recidivism rate is extremely high. The National Institutes of Justice tracked recidivism in nearly half a million prisoners released in 2005. They found that more than three quarters of those released were back in prison within five years.
Another study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that seven percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisons were in prisons run by for-profit companies. These companies have a history marred with allegations of rampant physical abuse by guards and underreporting of violence.
These statistics show that we have a broken and deeply dysfunctional prison system in the United States, and despite the fact that it may take a backseat to taxes, infrastructure and immigration, it’s certainly a black mark on our society in desperate need of reform.
Many of these prisoners were arrested for drug related offenses, and we’re a country that’s just starting to grapple with how to effectively treat addiction. The simple fact is that incarceration isn’t it, and most Americans understand this. A 2014 Pew Center survey found that 67 percent of Americans think that the government should start focusing more on treatment rather than incarceration.
But often our federal laws don’t match the dominant public views on issues like this. This is especially true in our current moment, since hardline drug-hawk Jeff Sessions is reversing trends by enforcing harsher minimum sentences even for low-level drug offenders.
And marijuana is at the forefront of the conversation when it comes to drug legalization. In the 1990s we saw unprecedented perceived risk in the dangers of habitual marijuana use. Nearly 80 percent of 12th graders in a survey done by Monitoring the Future perceived a great risk for harm with regular marijuana use. Today, only 30 percent perceive regular marijuana use as having a great risk of harm. In addition, a majority of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. It’s hard to deny that the trends are changing.
Despite all of these facts — all the surveys displaying changing American values; all of the statistics about overcrowded, underfunded and ineffective prisons; all of the taxpayer dollars that prop up a system that’s proven itself failed — the federal government is still reversing any progress made in the last few decades.
And so, we should admire Pennsylvania and any state that continues to move forward on their own, coming to terms with the old failed policies and choosing to move forwards to new solutions, rather than ignorantly regressing towards inevitable failure.