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War on drugs has left us with a latticework of crime

I thank David Scharfenberg for writing thoughtfully about the need for prison reform (“Free more criminals,” Ideas, Feb. 5). I disagree, however, with the notion that the drug war is not the major problem behind America’s huge prison growth. While less than 20 percent of prisoners may be serving time for drug offenses, the reality is that most crimes are the result of drug prohibition.

As a public defender attorney and a former mental health clinician at a men’s maximum security prison, I have worked with hundreds of people charged with theft, robbery, and other crimes resulting from drug addiction. Addiction in and of itself usually does not lead to crime; it is the laws prohibiting drugs that trigger law-breaking.

Why is it uncommon to see someone suffering from alcoholism robbing stores and yet common to see the person with opiate addiction doing so? Because the person suffering from alcohol use disorder can obtain alcohol for a small price compared with black-market opiates.

In addition, murders are too often committed in connection to drug warring.


At the center of our disastrous drug policies are people suffering. We would all benefit from investing our money in prevention, rehabilitation, education, and employment opportunities rather than expensive cages.

Lisa Newman-Polk