CLEVELAND - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio released “Overcharging, Overspending, Overlooking: Cuyahoga County’s Costly War on Drugs,” which examines the effects of the war on drugs on greater Cleveland. June 17 marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaring the war on drugs, which ushered in harsh criminal penalties for drug use.
“After 40 years, 40 million arrests, and over a trillion dollars spent, the war on drugs should finally be shelved as a failed experiment,” said ACLU of Ohio Policy Director Shakyra Diaz. “Thanks to our ‘lock em up’ policies, our prisons are over capacity, our communities are flooded with a growing class of ex-felons, and those with addiction are unable to get the treatment they need.”
“Everyone in Cuyahoga County should be treated fairly by the justice system, and offered the same opportunities for rehabilitation,” said Diaz. “By relying only on incarceration, everyone loses. Those sent to prison do not receive treatment, often dooming them to future crime and drug use. Rehabilitation and diversion costs much less than imprisonment, meaning taxpayers could save if we stopped locking those up who simply need a helping hand.”
In addition to the cost of incarceration, the ACLU’s report also addresses the impact of increased felony convictions on Cuyahoga County. State laws prevent some people with felony convictions from obtaining certain kinds of employment, education, and vocational training. Some economists estimate that Ohio lost as much as $2.9 billion in the state’s 2008 Gross Domestic Product because of the high number of ex-felons.
The ACLU’s report found that Cuyahoga County accounts for 20% of all state prison admissions, many of which are low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Although studies have shown whites and those in Cuyahoga County’s suburbs sell and use drugs at a similar rate, those who end up in prison are disproportionately African American and from the inner city. The study shows that whites from suburbs are more likely to be offered rehabilitation and diversion programs, and are 45% more likely to receive a plea deal from prosecutors.
“Cuyahoga County illustrates why the war on drugs has been a failure—it’s costly, ineffective, and unfair,” concluded Diaz. “While the effects of the war on drugs can be felt nationwide, we must start by addressing the problems in greater Cleveland. Local officials should start by expanding the availability of diversion programs, and ensure everyone has equal access to them.”
The Drug Policy Alliance, a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sensible drug laws, supported the study. For more information on their work, go to www.drugpolicy.org.