The Feds Are Trying to Revive the Drug War
Almost 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon launched what would be one of the most destructive and expensive campaigns this country has ever seen: the War on Drugs. It has torn families apart, leaving 5 million children to grow up with a parent in jail, including 503,000 in California. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to revive to the failed policies of the past. Fortunately, California lawmakers are fighting back to make sure the War on Drugs never returns to this state.
America’s War on Drugs chose to criminalize and incarcerate drug abuse instead of using more effective alternatives like treatment and prevention. In the past 10 years, California has wasted $2.5 billion taxpayer dollars to expand county jails. In 2016, more than 1,500 people in California jails were sentenced to more than five years. The leading cause of these long sentences was non-violent drug sale offenses. These overly punitive and prolonged sentences are only made possible by the War on Drug’s weapon of choice: sentencing enhancements.
Under current California law, sentencing enhancements can make drug sentences five times as severe. These sentencing schemes disproportionately harm people of color, who are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for drug law violations than white people. This bias extends to prosecutors who are twice as likely to use sentence enhancements on Black people as white people charged with the same offense.
By passing the “Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements Act” (the RISE Act), California can dismantle this destructive sentencing policy, reduce racial disparities in our justice system, and stop the cruel punishment of people suffering from substance abuse. Racist and ineffective sentencing enhancements have decimated our communities for far too long. We won’t let the federal government bring our state back to these failed tactics. It’s time for California to focus on people, not prisons.