Debates 2020

Joe Biden Envisions a Kinder, Gentler Drug War. We Should Demand Its End.

Drug courts and mandatory treatment models often lead right back to incarceration.

|

Thursday night's final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was notable in that neither man rushed to the defense of America's tendency to throw people in jail to serve long sentences for crimes, even if both men have records of wanting to do so.

Biden reiterated his position on the drug war, that rather than arresting and imprisoning people for drug use, these people should be helped via drug courts and mandatory drug treatment. (Biden also claimed that Republicans don't support drug courts, which isn't true: President George W. Bush's National Drug Control Strategy touted the local use of drug courts.)

Biden probably thinks he's advocating for something good, as do the Democrats who included this position in the party's 2020 platform, which says that nobody should be incarcerated "solely because they use drugs" and instead calls for diversionary treatment and drug courts.

The problem is that this position is simply perpetuating the drug war, but in a way that seems kindly and more accommodating. It operates on the incorrect assumption that every single person who uses illegal drugs is an addict who needs intervention in order to stop. Biden's view, to be fair, could be influenced by his experiences with his son Hunter's struggles with addiction.

But the drug court system is overly reliant on the threat of incarceration as part of its very operating system. Drug courts often require that anybody who wants the "mercy" of the court plead guilty, give up the rights, and confess to an addiction—one they may not have—in order to avoid jail.

Look at this description from 2007 of a court-supervised drug diversion program in Harris County, Texas, called Success Through Addiction Recovery (STAR), praised by the Bush administration. The report brags about the fact that some people find participating in the drug court to be harsher than incarceration and turn it down:

A highly structured, 3-phase treatment program, STAR involves 12-step programs or approved alternatives, group and individual treatment and counseling programs, frequent random drug testing, and regular interaction with the judges. Although designed to last at least 12 months, there is no "automatic" graduation from STAR. To graduate and successfully reenter society, participants must take certain positive steps to become drug and crime free, including demonstrating continued sobriety through drug testing and getting an education or obtaining gainful employment. Even after graduation from the program, STAR clients must participate in aftercare for a minimum of 12 months. Graduates must continue to report to a case manager who monitors their sobriety, and successful discharge is determined on a case-by-case basis.

The report says that "the folks of STAR must be doing something right." But subsequent research of drug court operations has shown that, in reality, drug courts in some cities have led to increased police crackdowns on drug users.

A report from 2018 from the nonprofit Social Science Research Council examined drug court systems in the United States and Latin America and found that in many cities, the existence of drug courts actually drove up arrests for simple drug possession.

And because these drug courts are so demanding, as the STAR program bragged, people sometimes fail to comply. When they do, they end up in jail, the very same place these programs are supposed to be diverting from. The 2018 report found that, in New York City, people who failed drug court ended up with jail sentences higher than those who just pleaded guilty and didn't bother with diversion at all.

When it comes down to it, forcing everybody found to be using drugs into drug courts and treatment is putting a gloss of false kindness and caring on a harsh government system of mandates that punishes people not for harming others or their property but for what they do with their own bodies. Mandatory drug treatment means that these policies Biden supports must be backed up with additional penalties for those who aren't cooperative.

People who are addicted and do need assistance genuinely should be able to seek out help, and government social services could be useful there. Drug courts might be a useful tool for approaching those whose drug addictions have led them to commit other crimes as well.

But a system where the drug use itself still brings with it a threat of punishment is not a system that is ending the drug war. It is admirable of Biden not to abandon Hunter to addiction and to continue to love him and try to help him as needed. But he's also attempting to force policies on everybody that may not be as bad as the mass incarceration of the 1980s and '90s, but nevertheless still perpetuate the failed war on drugs.

NEXT: Trump and Biden Are Both Misleading Us About COVID-19

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So locking people up in a treatment center is different from locking them up in jail.
    Damn, whodathunkit?
    Either way, Basement Bunker Biden wants the government to harass people who choose to use certain drugs.

    P.S. Joe Biden is a crook

    1. Those are incorrect thoughts, AKA wrong-think, so you are clearly addicted to drugs!

      Report immediately for mandatory treatment from the likes of Chris Bathum!

      See http://www.malibutimes.com/news/article_62b16ee4-2246-11e8-b456-1f240b332af0.html ,
      Malibu ‘Rehab Mogul’ Guilty on 31 Criminal Counts
      Christopher Bathum’s rap sheet includes a long list of charges, from fraud to forcible rape.
      Your tax and health-insurance money at work!!!

      1. That’s pretty grim. It does seem like a fairly perfect setup for a predator: Lots of people who already have a problem with substance use, and a very controlled setting.

        1. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this month easily and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Agh Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions………….. Visit Here

        2. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this month easily and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Anm Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions………… Visit Here

      2. Start making cash online work easily from home.i have received a paycheck of $24K in this month by working online from home.i am a student and i just doing this job in my spare ?Visit Here

    2. I get paid more than $120 to $130 per hour for working online. I heard about this job 3 months ago and after joining this i have earned easily $15k from asv this without having online working skills. This is what I do….Visit Here

      1. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this month easily and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Anu Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions………….. Visit Here

    3. I get paid more than $120 to $130 per hour for working online. I heard about this job 3 months ago and after joining this i have earned easily $15k from qwe this without having online working skills. This is what I do….Visit Here

  2. As bad as Trump is on many ways, particular his economic ignorance and xenophobia, I have yet to see a single way in which Biden even pretends to promise to try to be better.

    Anyone who votes for Biden is a damned fool with blinders on. If you can’t stand to vote for Trump, vote Libertarian or Green Party or anything else. But a vote for Biden is the same as saying “I can’t stand the smell of fish so I’ll eat me some clams instead.”

    1. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this month easily and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Ani Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions………….. Visit Here

    2. Biden’s asset forfeiture pumps cash into police unions, and the deportation clauses in his Anti-Drug-Abuse Act of 1987 curries favor with George Wallace Dixiecrats eager for any excuse to shoot or deport brown Americans or foreigners of any color. Trump is an actor hired to read as lines the hateful and superstitious platform the GOP wrote in 2016. He’s the first GOP candidate not eager to attack birth control clinics like Robert Lewis Dear, or nationalize medicine like the Dems. Only defeat improved those looter parties; so be it.

  3. I m friends with our local JP. She has mentioned the uselessness of sentencing people to drug or alcohol rehab, as it never seems to work, however, she has to by law.

    1. Yeah, I’ve been through it with several close family members. A person has to want to live clean more than they want to get high… at all times. That’s something that comes from within; it can’t be coerced or mandated by authority or even willed into happening by loved ones trying to help. It’s frustrating as all hell, but that’s the way it is.

      1. About a sixth of the human species has what’s called a “heightened amygdala response”, which predispositions them towards substance abuse, not merely substance use.

        It’s *really* hard for such folks to regulate their use of mind altering substances. It’s the same thing that makes each successive drink look like a better and better idea, only it’s all the time.

        1. Google is by and by paying $27485 to $29658 consistently for taking a shot at the web from home. I have joined this action TCL 2 months back and I have earned $31547 in my first month from this action. I can say my life is improved completely! Take a gander at it

          what I do………Click here

  4. Start now earning extra $16,750 to $19,000 per month by doing an easy home based job in part time only. Last month i have got my 3rd paycheck of $17652 by giving this job only 3 hrs a day online on my Mobile. Every person can now get this today and makes extra cash by follow details her==► Read More  

  5. It shows Biden is both out of ideas, and willing to throw himself and everyone who backed him under the bus. He’s a grifter but not a terribly good one. Fortunately he got called on all his BS, not by Reason of course, but by others willing to call it like they see it. The federal government is a corrupt mafia organization and Joe Biden is their protector and cheerleader.

    1. Lemme guess who these “others” might be… God’s Own Prohibitionists?

  6. Quid Pro Joe needs to get a payoff from a union involved with the drug war before he’ll do anything about it…

    1. PS: Joe Biden is corrupt AF

    2. Joe’s party ERASED his pet drug prohibition from its platform after Gary Johnson’s over 4 million votes plopped them face down in the cesspool. Now would be a good time for God’s Own Prohibitionists to learn that same lesson from Jo’s voters.

  7. They can’t end the “War on Drugs”. If they do that the Liberals lose all of the tax revenue from legalizing them.

  8. STAR is about as scientifically based as phrenology as indicated by it’s use of 12-step faith healing methods.

  9. The government doesn’t own your body and has no proper, Constitutional authority to decide what substances you may possess or put into your body. The entirety of Prohibition is illegal and immoral. The people must at some point put government back into its clearly-defined box and stop treating it like the daddy that never quite loved them enough.

    1. To prohibit alcohol at the federal level, they realized they needed to pass a Constitutional amendment. (Within a few years they realized it was a huge mistake, as gangland warfare and police corruption reached unprecedented levels.)

      Where was the amendment for the Drug War? Was anyone surprised when it led to gangland warfare and police corruption?

  10. STAY AT HOME & WORK AT HOME FOR USA ►Check it out, and start earning yourself . for more info visit any tab this site Thanks a lot Here…Click here.

  11. I thought they already switched to the War on Human Trafficking, like when they arrested the Patriots owner. How many decades in prison did he get?

  12. Start now earning extra $16,750 to $19,000 per month by doing an easy home based job in part time only. Last month i have got my 3rd paycheck of $17652 by giving this job only 3 hrs a day online on my Mobile. Every person can now get this today and makes extra cash by follow details her==► Read More  

  13. ★I’am made $84, 8254 so far this year working on the web and I’m a full time understudy. Im utilizing an online business opportunity I caught wind of and I’AM profited. It’s truly easy to understand and I’m simply so cheerful that I got some answers concerning it. Here what I do,.for more data essentially open this connection thank you….. Read More  

  14. Drug Courts perpetuate the War on Drugs, falsely portray all illegal drug use as a “drug addiction”, require those caught using to attend abstinence only drug treatment programs (that have a 10% success rate) and to publicly claim they are a recovering drug addicts, and require them attend and participate in religious indoctrination (aka 12 step programs).

    1. China had a real addictive drug problem as far back as 1808. The East India Company with Delano’s American outfit dumped Indian and Persian opium there, then attacked and demolished cities when the Chinese tried prohibition instead of domestic legalization. American missionaries infected the populace with wild-eyed evangelist fanatics whose kinder-and-gentler rebellion killed the equivalent of the entire population of the USA by the time Comstock laws banned our mailing of contraceptive leaflets or dope. That approach eliminated 25 million addicts by killing them. Republicans and democrats consider that a success.

  15. I remember urging US Senators in the 1980s and 1990s to oppose Joe Biden’s bills that expanded the War on Drugs, and increased sentences for violators.

    It took several decades (after tens of thousands of people sat in prison) before Biden admitted (after seeing public opinion polls) that his crime/drug war bills were a mistake. But he’s done very little to resolve the massive problems he created for America.

  16. Great article, though would’ve liked to see it front and center instead of hidden at the bottom!

    This part could’ve been expanded upon:

    ‘And because these drug courts are so demanding, as the STAR program bragged, people sometimes fail to comply. When they do, they end up in jail, the very same place these programs are supposed to be diverting from.’

    Very true. It’s a feature, not a bug. As long as the accused remain in the drug court, the state makes a pretty penny off of exploiting them and their family! Drug Warriors never change their stripes, but they do manage to come up with some (seemingly) slightly more palatable and clever methods of expanding their rackets and making private citizens ‘volunteer’ for and finance their own enslavement.

    Before my sister died of an accidental OD, she (and by extension, we, her family) went through ‘drug court’ several times over a decade-long period. All for simple possession (an 1/8 of Cannabis one time, a couple Xanax another, etc.) She was always employed and never violent or a thief. Yet, after you go through ‘drug court’ once, you’re marked for permanently increased LE attention. After the latest traffic stop turned up a Cannabis seed, they were trying to get her to submit to their ‘help’ again. She immediately told them to pound sand and she’d take the jail time. It was the correct decision, in more ways than one: first, it forces the state to pay the whole freight for their Prohibitionist zeal! Secondly, As we all learned, ‘drug court’ is in many ways more onerous than simply sitting in jail. You (and the family who tries to help you) still lose all your privacy rights and have a government boot up your rear 24/7. Only YOU pay through the nose for the ‘privilege.’

    Lest anyone think they’re safe by sticking to the ‘good’ drug, alcohol, they’re also rolling more and more alcoholics and ‘problem drinkers’ into these programs, too.

  17. End.
    The.
    Drug.
    War.
    NOW.

    1. The only way to do that is to vote Libertarian. The logistics curve math called for some 9.2 million Libertarian presidential votes. But that was before communist infiltrators on the LP platform committee added the plank instigating uninspected entry by terrorists, saboteurs, infected cattle and violent criminals. Adding such an infiltrator as an albatross on Jo’s campaign was a deliberate insult to American voters. Every vote short of 9.2 million in the top race can be directly attributed to plank sabotage and the Mises Caucus’ choice or Jeremy the Anarchist for veep.

  18. Start now earning extra $16,750 to $19,000 per month by doing an easy home based job in part time only. Last month i have got my 3rd paycheck of $17652 by giving this job only 3 hrs a day online on my Mobile. Every person can now get this today and makes extra cash by follow details her==► Read More  

  19. Perhaps folks forgot the 1980’s and 1990’s when Crack fueled crime was killing more people than auto accidents in the USA. Everyone was for the 1994 crime bill and factually it worked to stem crime. I am sorry people of color choose drugs over school more often, but that is the indisputable facts as they are. Legalize it all and back to the future we go….it’s a disaster in the making.

  20. Before Biden, Leahy, Kerry, Wright and Reagan turned Nixon’s drug prohibitionism into their economy-demolishing 1986 version, they removed “addictive opiates” from the verbage and inserted as joker “controlled substances.” This was so that non-habit forming extracts of coca leaves and ergot of rye could be branded the new Avatars of Satan to justify shootings, asset-forfeiture looting, mass deportation of honest rights-respecting individuals. Nevermind collapsing the banking system by triggering sudden withdrawals by depositors trapped in a race with goon squad confiscations. A reality-based definition of “addiction” would enhance Scott’s article.

  21. So I guess we are to just ignore the 50k to 70K dead every year from drug overdoses?
    And all the victims of violent crimes directly related to the illicit drug trade?
    The only way to win the war on drugs is to impose mandatory death penalties for traffickers. This has been proven to be highly effective wherever it has been done.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.