If the Bronx was completely representative of the rest of the country, it would be a much smaller place because nearly 10,000 people would be in prison.
Our prison system at all levels incarcerates 2.2 million people, meaning one in every 148 people is sitting behind bars.
Yes, many of those people deserve to be there. But a 2016 report by Time magazine suggests that 39 percent of that population — some 576,000 people — shouldn’t be there. And if they were released, it would save $20 billion annually.
While Time cites a number of reasons why these prisoners should be released, a major factor for many of them is that they are non-violent offenders of drug crimes. And we get it, drugs are bad. But as drug abuse statistics rise, it’s becoming more and more clear that simply declaring it illegal and forcing already overburdened courts to handle it just isn’t working.
While there are minimal if any benefits to many illicit drugs — one that seems to get unfairly grouped with the likes of heroin and opioids — is marijuana.
Scientific study after scientific study seems to find there are far more health benefits to marijuana than drawbacks, including relief for chronic pain and stress. Many scientists look at the mind-altering properties of THC as being no worse than alcohol or even caffeine.
Yet, between 2001 and 2010, 8.2 million arrests were made involving nothing more than marijuana, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Using the figures from Time, if we were to have incarcerated each and every one of those people, at $34,700 each, it would have cost us $284.5 billion.
That’s enough money to give each man, woman and child in the United States about $875.
There have to be better ways to deal with drug addiction — ways that actually work to solve the problem, rather than tucking people away where we don’t have to look at them anymore.
But we can start by removing marijuana off the list of “illicit” drugs. Really, it should have never been there in the first place, and based on the ACLU’s research, seems to be more of an excuse to target specific demographics over everyone else.
Our prisons are filled to capacity. It’s time we take another approach.