Bryan Caplan  

Ratio of Violent to Drug Offenders in Jail

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These official stats surprised even me. Back in 1980, State correctional facilities had 9 violent criminals for every drug offender.

By 2003, that ratio was 2.6:1. Clearly, the War on Drugs launched during my teen years was not just rhetoric - and though the War on Terror has crowded out rhetoric about the War on Drugs, the reality continues.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Daniel Klein writes:

Drug prohibition is America's most conspicuously Nazi policy, plain as day and ignored by so many pundits and bloggers. Nice post.

Robert Speirs writes:

I just can't help thinking that a good number of those "drug offenders" are also violent offenders. How was an inmate counted who had a minor violent offense conviction and a major drug conviction? Anyone involved in drug trading knows he risks involvement in violent offenses at any moment. That's the reality.

I agree that those who were imprisoned only for a drug offense are the victims of injustice. I just don't think the distinction between drug and violent offenders is as clear as these numbers suggest.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

The War on Drugs is a much bigger threat than terror.

Black youth has very high unemployment (25%) which should be on the top five list of important issues for government right now.

This unemployment is caused by a mixture of factors:

1) Minimum wages (often higher in urban areas) drive black youth out of entry-level jobs, reducing their lifetime earnings and the chance that their children might go to college.

2) Unemployed youth seek unregulated income from the illegal drug industry (which is subsidized by the War on Drugs). In truth most low-level illegal drug workers don't make much more than minimum wage, but at least they have a job.

3) The War on Drugs leads to illegal drug workers assuming a culture of threat and violence, rather than a culture more aligned with the entry-level service jobs that black youth would otherwise be in. ("Are you dissin' me, I'm going to pop a cap in you!" vs. "Yes sir, I'll get that weed for you right away, sorry for the wait!")

4) Thus the enhancement of the threat/violence culture makes it even less likely that black youth can get entry-level service jobs because they take on the threat/violence attitude.

5) Public schools, not ever really doing a great job anyway, become even less effective when populated with students that have a threat/violence culture, both directly and through peer effects. This reduces the skills aquired by black youth, putting further distance between them and those service jobs.

paul writes:

Persecution and incarceration for victimless life style pursuits are abhorrent in any time period. Its funny how people in this day and age can rationalize the “war on drugs” yet judge with complete moral indignation things like the Inquisition, homosexual persecution, etc. I guess its all relative…

Patri Friedman writes:

But it's all from 1980 to 1990 - the proportion has been flat since 1990.

When people don't understand why I hate our government, I explain to them that if I confessed my harmless hobbies in court, they'd put me away for life. In other words, I only walk free because I haven't gotten caught yet. While I think the odds are against my getting caught, this is still a rather chilling thought.

The people who run this country think I belong in jail - is it any wonder I hate them and everything they stand for?

TGGP writes:

You are missing an important part of the ratio: did violent crime decrease significantly?

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