As the federal deficit skyrockets on a continuing basis, one area that is not discussed very often as a contributing factor is the amount of money allocated to the Department of Justice, the building of more prisons and the overcrowding of the prisons we already have. People may assume money going towards crime and punishment is well spent, but a quick look at the spectacular failure of the ongoing war on drugs should negate any such assumption.
According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the growth in the number of federal prisoners is increasing faster than the country’s ability to house them. When one considers that it is expensive for taxpayers to pay for each federal prisoner, that growth adds up to an expensive problem. Even worse, the GAO noted that this rapid growth in federal prisoners is largely due to people being arrested, charged and sentenced for drug crimes. From 2006 to 2011, the federal prison population increased by 9.5%, which was 7% greater than the increase in prison capacity. As a result, the number of prisons that were overcrowded with federal prisoners increased from 36% to 39% during that time period. That percentage is expected to increase to 45% by 2018. Who are all of these prisoners packing the federal prisons and costing taxpayers millions of dollars? Last year, 48% of federal prisoners were drug offenders, and they were serving prison sentences that were 2.5 years longer than in the mid-1980’s on average.
The war on drugs is a colossal failure, and it is possibly the most expensive failure in the history of the country since there is no end in sight and it is only getting bigger. The war on drugs is expensive on so many levels. Overcrowded prisons is just one of them.