"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Start, But Not Far Enough

Eric Holder, whom I do not like, has managed to do something that may turn out to be a good thing, or may just be more of the same.   He's saying that the Department of Justice will start pulling back on prosecution of non-violent drug crimes:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences. 
The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder unveiled in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco. He also introduced a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals..... 
It is clear that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” Holder said. “We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” he added later in the speech. 
Holder is calling for a change in Justice Department policies to reserve the most severe penalties for drug offenses for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers.

To me this doesn't go far enough.   The problem with criminalizing drugs is that it incentivizes "gangs or large-scale drug organizations" to enter the business and to protect their turf with violence.   Sure, it would be a good thing if a mere consumer of drugs isn't incarcerated, but is diverted into treatment or some other non-prison punishment.   But a lot of that is happening anyway.   What we need is to end the incentives for some of the best and the brightest and most motivated and aggressive young men in inner cities to enter the drug trade as a means of getting ahead economically, and to divert those guys -- precisely the guys who are with-it enough to organize "gangs or large-scale drug organizations" -- into the real economy.   The way to do that is to remove the thing that makes drug trafficking profitable, because it drives drug prices up so far, namely, the illegality of the enterprise and the risk involved.  

That's a really radical proposal, and I'm afraid it's one that the Eric Holders of the world wouldn't embrace.  

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