The Incarceration of Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Essay samples

TheIncarceration of Nonviolent Drug Offenders


Thepurpose of the paper is to present an argument against theincarceration of non-violent drug offenders. Trends show that thenumber of violent drug offenses has been increasing in spite of thegovernment’s emphasis on the incarnation to deter drug crimes. Theincrease in the rate of incarceration of non-violent drug crimesincrease financial burden on taxpayers, given that the annual cost ofincarcerating a single offender is about $ 60,000. Incarceration ofnon-violent drug offenders is not an effective strategy to reducerecidivism compared to community correction strategies that reducerecidivism by 25 %. Incarceration of non-violent drug offendersincreases prison congestion, which reduces efficiency of the criminaljustice system. Therefore, incarceration of non-violent drugoffenders is the major cause of the challenges that the criminaljustice system is facing.

Keywords: Non-violent drug offenders, incarceration, recidivism, crimedeterrence.

TheIncarceration of Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Theprison population has been increasing over the years to an extentthat it has become a controversial issue where the key stakeholdersdebate on the appropriate ways of containing the challenge. Mostimportantly, the largest proportion of the incarcerated persons iscomposed of drug offenders with some of them being nonviolent usersand offenders. According to Miles (2014) the total number of drugoffenders in the U.S. prisons account for about 50 % of the totalprison population where 60 % of them are non-violent offenders. Thisis clear evidence that the incarceration of non-violent drugoffenders is the major cause of the increasing rate of the prisonpopulation. The paper presents an argument against the incarcerationof non-violent drug offenders. Avoiding the incarceration ofnonviolent drug offenders can reduce congestion in prisons, let theproductive low-level offenders free, and save the taxpayers’ money.

Historyshows that the number of people incarcerated for non-violentdrug-related offenses have been increasing exponentially. Researchshows that the prison population doubled between 1980 and 1990 wherethe rate of non-violent offenses increased from 7.5 % to 24% (Damico,2014). This proportion also more than doubled by the year 2000 and2010. This exponential increase in the number of non-violent drugoffenders behind the bars currently account for over 60 % of theprisoners, which is a rapid increase from less than 10 % in 1980(Schmitt, Warner &amp Gupta, 2010). This shows that the prisonpopulation began to increase rapidly in the last three decadesfollowing the reinforcement of the war on drugs. In most cases, thelaw enforcers arrest and incarcerate individuals with lesserresponsibility, including those who act as couriers or take part inperipheral roles. This leads to the incarceration of healthy andproductive members of the society who becomes a financial burden tothe taxpayers instead of contributing towards economic development.

Therapid increase in the rate of incarceration of non-violent drugoffenders has significant impact on the national budget. This isbecause the cost of incarcerating offenders increases over time, thesame as the cost of living increase in the normal life. According toReddy &amp Levin (2013) the government spends approximately $ 60,000to incarcerate a single offender for a period of one year and a totalof $ 63 billion on correction, which is a 300 % increase from theyear 1980. This makes the cost of incarcerating offenders the secondfasted increasing component of the national budget after Medicaid.This means that the use of incarceration as the most common strategyfor correcting offenders will continually increase the financialburden on the taxpayers. However, the cost of incarceratingnon-violent drug offenders can be avoided by using alternativemethods of correction and crime deterrent. For example, communitycorrection programs have been shown to be effective in terms of costand correction of offenders (State of Indiana, 2010). Therefore, theuse of alternative methods of correction will resolve the issue ofprison congestion and financial burden.

Overthe years, the law enforcement agencies have focused on incarcerationof drug offenders as the major strategy for the correction ofoffenders. The steady increase in the number of low level offendersis an indication that incarceration is not effective in behavioralcorrection and reduction of recidivism. Study shows thatincarceration of low-level offenders (including the juveniles andnon-violent drug offenders) has negative psychological effects on theincarcerated persons, which increases the chances for reapingoffenses or engaging in other offense when they are released (Comey,2012). This shows that prisons are the breeding grounds for violentdrug offenses and other categories of crime, which further increasesthe prison population. Avoiding unnecessary incarceration ofnon-violent crimes can reduce repeat offenses, thus reducing theprison population in the long-run. For example, the decision by thestate of Texas to spend $ 2 billion in expanding community-basedcorrection programs (including evidence-based drug treatment andproblem solving courts) instead of purchasing 17,000 prison bedsdecreased crime by 25 % (Reddy &amp Levin, 2013). This strategy hasallowed the government of Texas to reduce the number of prison bedsby 4,500 with a proposal to close two prison facilities. Thisindicates that incarceration of non-violent drug offenders increasesrecidivism, but the use of alternative methods of correction reducethe probability for offenders to repeat offenses, thus decreasing theprison population.

Overcrowdingis one of the central problems in the incarceration centers acrossthe globe, which is worsened by unnecessary incarceration oflow-level offenders. The number of drug-related offenses hasescalated steadily while the number of other categories of crime(including robbery and murder) has remained steady. This has forcedthe federal prisons to operate at an average of 19 % above theircapacity (Net Industries, 2014). Prison congestion is associated withthe increase in the incarceration of minority and women offenderssince the onset of the war on drugs in the 1980s. The high influx oflow-level offenders is the major source of congestion in prisons,which is a challenge to the prison workers and individual behind thebars. Overcrowding of prison facilities increases inefficiency of thecriminal justice system, demand for the use of corrupt or untrainedstaff to supervise incarceration facilities, and underpayment of thelarge number of facility staff. This implies that the incarcerationof non-violent drug offenders reduces the capacity of the criminaljustice system in the administration of justice.

Inconclusion, the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders is themajor source of the challenges being experienced by the criminaljustice system. Although incarceration has traditionally beenperceived to be the most effective way of deterring crime andenhancing safety in the society, unnecessary imprisonment fails toserve this purpose. This has been proven by the fact that the numberof drug-related offenses has been increasing in spite of theescalation in the rate of incarceration. This suggests that thestakeholders in the criminal justice system should look foralternative means (such as community correction programs) of dealingwith non-violent drug offenses.


Comey,M. (2012). Reportfinds juvenile incarceration ineffective in preventing crime.Charlottesville, VA: The Cavalier.

Damico,D. (2014). Why is the U.S. prison population so large? LearnLiberty Organization.Retrieved May 24, 2014, from

Miles,K. (2014, March 10). Just how much the war on drugs impacts ourovercrowded prisons, in one chart. HoffingtonPostIncorporation.Retrieved May 24, 2014, from

NetIndustries (2014). Prisons: problems and prospects-prisons and war ondrugs. NetIndustries.Retrieved May 24, 2014, from

Schmitt,J., Warner, K. &amp Gupta, S. (2010). Thehigh budgetary cost of incarceration.Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Stateof Indiana (2010). Effectivenessof community corrections in the State of Indiana.Indianapolis: Indiana University.

Reddy,P. &amp Levin, A. (2013). Theconservative case against more prisons.Washington, DC: The American Conservative.