THE SENTENCING PROJECT
On September 5th, national drug control policy director William Bennett will formally
release his longawaited "National Drug Control Strategy." The report is designed
to present a comprehensive plan for responding to the nation's drug problem. Although
final details of the plan were not to be made public until then, a 235page draft submitted
to the President for review was "leaked" and circulating in Washington in August
1989. The final report is expected to be similar to the draft proposal.
Following is a summary and analysis of the proposed drug strategy.
Highlights of the Drug Strategy
Although the drug strategy calls for funding and programming in several areas, its
primary thrust is in the area of law enforcement, with less focus on prevention,
treatment, and education. Greater emphasis is also to be placed on "demand
reduction" by imposing new sanctions on "casual users." These sanctions
will include such penalties as revoking drivers' licenses, sentences to "boot
camps," and evictions from public housing.
Law Enforcement/Prisons The Bennett plan proposes an increase in federal aid to
state and local governments for drugrelated law enforcement from the current level of $150
million to $350 million. In addition, funding levels for federal prison construction would
be increased from $580 million to $1.2 billion.
Treatment Funding for drug treatment programs through the Department of Health and
Human Resources would increase from $481 million to $740 million.
Education The Education Department would receive an increase from $355 million to
$392 million for antidrug programs.
International Enforcement Between $300400 million would be made available in
economic and military assistance to Latin American countries to combat the spread of
Other Features The drug strategy includes a variety of other proposals, including
the use of civil commitment proceedings to force drug addicts into treatment, mandatory
imposition of user sanctions by colleges in order to receive federal funds, and a
crackdown on marijuana use.
© The Sentencing Project, Inc., Washington, D.C. (1990). Briefing Sheets may be
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Problems with the Drug Strategy
The establishment of the drug policy position created an opportunity to conduct a
broad examination of the reasons why drug use pervades our society from innercity
"crack" houses to suburban homes to professional athletics. In contrast to
previous "wars on drugs," the drug "czar" position carried no mandate
to adopt an exclusively lawenforcement approach. Instead, there was the potential to
explore the range of social, economic, moral, and psychological factors leading to drug
use, and thereby creating the basis for proposing solutions to respond to the crisis. The
Bennett plan, though, avoids asking these difficult questions, and instead proposes
"more of the same."
1. Contrary to some initial publicity, the Bennett strategy continues a fifteenyear
commitment to a law enforcement approach, and not to prevention, treatment, or education.
The proposed budget increase for federal prisons alone $654 million is greater than the
total recommended increase of $565 million for treatment and prevention. Total law
enforcement funding would outpace spending for treatment and prevention by more than
In doing so, the plan continues a pattern of funding priorities that began shifting in the
mid1970s. From 197075, twothirds of antidrug funding $1.92 billion of $3 billion was
devoted to prevention, treatment, and education. Between 197681, 43 percent of the total
$5.2 billion budget went to these categories. Beginning in 1982, the first full year of
funding under the Reagan administration, 80 percent of drug funding went to law
enforcement, with this pattern continuing until passage of the 1988 AntiDrug Abuse Act.
From 1981 through 1986, federal funding for law enforcement more than doubled from $800
million in 1981 to $1.9 billion in 1986. At the same time, federal funding for prevention,
education, and treatment declined from $404 million in 1981 to $338 million in 1985. When
adjusted for inflation, this amounted to a 40 percent decrease. The Bennett plan restores
some of these funds that had been cut over the years, but still maintains a primary
emphasis on a law enforcement approach.
2. The drug strategy represents a continuation of a failed approach.
Fighting the "war on drugs" primarily through law enforcement more arrests, more
prisons, and more prisoners is hardly a new approach. The past decade has seen a doubling
in our nation's prison population at tremendous financial cost, much of it due to
drugrelated offenses. By the end of 1989, there will be one million prisoners in our
nation's prisons and jails. This massive increase, though, has resulted in no appreciable
drop in the crime rate or the prevalence of drugs. As the Bennett paper notes, "drugs
are potent, drugs are cheap, and drugs are available to almost anyone who wants them"
(Draft, National Drug Control Strategy, pp. 34).
As former Washington, D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner has remarked, even though District
police made over 40,000 drug arrests in the past year, drug use in the nation's capital
remains rampant, along with the crime associated with it. As long as the conditions which
breed drug use exist, there will be a constant source of potential new users.
3. "Boot camps" recommended in the Bennett plan will likely result in more
prisoners, with no guarantee of any decline in crime or drug use.
Although sometimes referred to as "alternatives" to prison, boot camps in fact
are essentially prisons, albeit shortterm ones. States which currently operate boot camp
programs generally use a model of a 36 month militarystyle regimen in an institution. In
recommending the expansion of boot camps, the drug strategy flies in the face of
government reports recommending caution in their development. A 1988 GAO report
("Prison Boot Camps: Too Early to Measure Effectiveness") concluded that it was
"too early to measure [the] effectiveness" of boot camps, while a recent
National Institute of Justice study ("Shock Incarceration: An Overview of Existing
Programs") stated that, at present, "We don't know whether [boot camp] changes
offenders' attitudes, or whether it deters or rehabilitates more or less effectively than
other communitybased sanctions" (p. 35).
4. Locking up more drug offenders will only exacerbate the problems in our prison
Prison populations are at an alltime high, and prison systems in forty states are under
court order to improve conditions. Adding additional thousands of drug users will only add
to this burden.
The serious shortage of treatment programs in prisons has insured that incarceration
cannot "cure" most drug addicts. A recent Justice Department study of offenders
released from state prisons found that 62 percent of persons imprisoned for drug
possession were rearrested within three years of release. As former Watergate figure and
prisoner Charles Colson has said recently, "Addicts leave prison just as likely to
commit new crimes as when they went in." If we cannot help drug offenders who are
already incarcerated, there is little hope of providing meaningful treatment to additional
thousands of prisoners.
5. The Bennett plan advocates increased incarceration, but the major cost of this
policy will be borne by state and local governments for decades to come.
The vast majority of drug arrests are made at the state level. Increased funding to state
and local governments for law enforcement will lead to more arrests, convictions, and
sentences to prison. Yet, the Bennett plan includes no funding for state prison
construction or costs of incarceration. Each new prison cell built to accommodate
Bennett's strategy will cost about $50,000, plus approximately $20,000 a year for housing
of each new prisoner. All of these costs will be the responsibility of state and local
taxpayers, diverting funds from schools, roads, housing, and treatment programs.
There is a Better Way
Addressing the drug problem needs to begin with the premise that drugs are a problem
which society as a whole needs to deal with, and not just the criminal justice system. As
with other issues, the criminal justice system may provide some measure of justice and
safety, but it is not designed to resolve underlying social and economic issues. A
constructive approach to the drug problem which the Bennett plan could have emphasized
would have been the following:
Social and Economic Issues
Contrary to the contention of Bennett and others, addressing the problem of poverty
and "quality of life" are both shortterm and longterm issues. Funds that
will be used to build and operate prisons could instead be devoted to programs of job
training and placement, school dropout prevention, child care programs, and other needed
As the Bennett plan notes, "treatment for drug addiction can and often does
work." Yet, in 1987, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that publicly
funded drug treatment was available for only 4 percent of the estimated 6.5 million drug
users and addicts who needed help. Substance abusers with financial resources have little
trouble finding highquality treatment programs. For poor people seeking help, though, a
sixmonth waiting list for treatment is not unusual.
No single drug program or approach will work for all drug users. What is needed is a
funding commitment to develop a variety of models to respond to the range of drugs and
Prevention and Education
From 1982 to 1985, only $23 million a year, 1 percent of total drug abuse funding, was
spent on prevention and education. Although the 1988 AntiDrug Abuse Act increased funding
in this area tenfold, more than threequarters of all funding still remained in
With the important exception of "crack," drug use has generally been declining
over the past several years. Most experts believe this is primarily due to increased
awareness about the hazards of drugs, and not through reduced availability or increased
sanctions. Now is the time to build on this progress, and to design new methods of
reaching young people.
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Much of the data in this briefing paper is taken from Mathea Falco, Winning the
Drug War: A National Strategy, Priority Press Publications, New York, 1989.