We may never settle the question of whether or not there is a causal link between illegal drugs and other criminal activity. But even if such a link exists, locking up drug offenders doesn't appear to be the solution. Last year ended with a record 948,881 state and federal prisoners, up from only 329,821 in 1980. Although nearly half of the increase is due to more drug offenders entering prison, new commitments for property and violent crimes, as well as arrests for sexual assault, aggravated assault, and robbery, have continued to rise.
Overcrowding is particularly acute in federal prisons, where there are now more than twice as many drug offenders as there were total inmates in 1980. The United States' incarceration rate for prisoners sentenced to more than a year also reached a world record 351 per 100,000 residents in 1993--and that's not counting the approximately 450,000 people held in city and county jails on any given day. That means that primarily because of drug prohibition, U.S. citizens are more likely to be locked up than any other people in the world.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Lock ’em Up".