The Magazine

Drug Wars

Just say no . . . to treatment without law enforcement

Mar 5, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 24 • By JOHN P. WALTERS
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The most recent data, moreover, reveal how limited has been the "success" of incapacitation: In 1997, 46.6 percent of state prisoners had been on probation or parole when they were arrested for the offense for which they were serving time. The same data also indicate that 91.1 percent of state prisoners were violent or repeat offenders or both.

Neither is it true that the prison population is disproportionately made up of young black men. Crime, after all, is not evenly distributed throughout society. It is common knowledge that the suburbs are safer than the inner city, though we are not supposed to mention it. In 1998, of the 7,276 murders in the United States that involved a single offender and a single victim, 5,133 of the victims were male and 3,309 were black.

According to the FBI, 3,565 of the offenders in these murder cases were black, and 3,067 of the murders involved both a black victim and a black offender. In 1998, black males between the ages of 14 and 17 were almost 6 times more likely than white males to be victims of murder or non-negligent manslaughter; black males between 18 and 24 were over 8 times more likely to be victims; and for those 25 and over, black males were murder victims at a rate 7.6 times that of white males. Whether one looks at murder, violent crime in general, or drug trafficking, criminals overwhelmingly victimize people like themselves.

It should be obvious, then, who will be harmed most if fewer violent and repeat offenders and drug traffickers are punished and sentences are substantially reduced. Though some who call for such reforms have the best of intentions, they recommend a course not of compassion but of cruelty. Instead of retreating from punishment, we should be contemplating the limited demographic window before us: By 2010, the population between the ages of 15 and 17, just entering the most crime-prone years, will be 31 percent larger than it was in 1990. Now is our chance to make prevention and enforcement work.

John P. Walters, president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, was deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the previous Bush administration.