June 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's declaration of a "war on drugs" — a war that has cost roughly a trillion dollars, has produced little to no effect on the supply of or demand for drugs in the United States, and has contributed to making America the world's largest incarcerator.
The war on drugs has sent millions of people to prison for low-level offenses, and seriously eroded our civil liberties and civil rights while costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year, with nothing to show for it except our status as the world's largest incarcerator. There are 2.3 million people behind bars in this country — that is triple the amount of prisoners we had in 1987 — and 25 percent of those incarcerated are locked up for drug offenses. Taxpayers spend almost $70 billion a year on corrections and incarceration. A far more sensible way to deal with a public health problem like drug addiction is to provide treatment, which study after study has shown is more effective than incarceration.
Through advocacy and litigation, the ACLU has been seeking an end to this failed war on drugs and our costly addiction to incarceration for decades. Go here to read more about the ACLU’s work to end to excessively harsh crime policies that result in mass incarceration and stand in the way of a just and equal society.