Imprisoning more drug offenders does nothing to lower drug use or overdose rates, a study conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts (PCT) concluded Monday.
PCT measured drug imprisonment rates across 48 states in 2014 and found that higher rates of drug imprisonment did not result in lower rates of drug use, lower drug arrests or lower overdose deaths. The organization said in a letter to the White House that its findings strongly suggest that tougher drug sentencing is not an effective deterrent for drug crime.
“Tennessee imprisons drug offenders at a rate more than three times greater than New Jersey, but the illicit drug use rate in the two states is virtually the same,” the study found. “Conversely, Indiana and Iowa have nearly identical rates of drug imprisonment, but Indiana ranks 27th among states in its rate of illicit drug use and 18th in drug overdose deaths while Iowa ranks 44th and 47th respectively.”
The Pew study joins a growing base of research contradicting the assumption that imprisonment is an effective means to combat drug crime. A 2014 study from the National Research Council also found that drug imprisonment has “few, if any, deterrent effects.”
Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the United States, passed a slew of justice reforms this spring that are in line with the study’s findings, lowering bails and sentences for non-violent drug offenses in a change expected to reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent over the next decade. (RELATED: Louisiana Takes First Steps To Shed Its Insanely High Incarceration Rate)
Louisiana is one of many states to begin changing its justice system with bipartisan to match emerging evidence that programs focused on reducing recidivism are more effective than traditional imprisonment for drug crimes. Oklahoma, Arizona, Illinois and Ohio all pursued similar legislation this spring.
Opposing these states is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been vocal in pursuing “tough-on-crime” policies emphasizing mandatory minimum sentences of traditional imprisonment for both violent and non-violent drug crimes.
“Turning back the recent troubling increase in violent crime in our country is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration, as we work to fulfill the President’s promise to make America safe again,” Sessions said in a Tuesday statement.
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