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Drug Use and Justice 2002: An Examination of California Drug Policy Enforcement

NCJ Number
Mike Males Ph.D.; Daniel Macallair M.P.A; Ross Jamison M.P.A
Date Published
December 2002
26 pages
This paper assesses California's approach to drug-policy enforcement and imprisonment of drug offenders, comparing 12 of the largest counties in the State.
This report relies on the most current information available on drug-policy enforcement and imprisonment trends in California, with attention to the factors that keep incarceration levels at record highs. California's especially harsh approach to drug crimes is based on deterrence and incapacitation theory, which is implemented through the promotion of increased arrests, prosecutions, and prison sentences as the primary mechanisms for dissuading drug use and reducing street crime by removing the drug-using and drug-dealing offender from the community. California's drug enforcement policy is also based in the belief that stricter sanctions that target low-level and first-time drug offenders further reduces drug-related crime by increasing the personal costs of drug use among incipient users. The dramatic rise in drug offender imprisonment throughout the State is not, however, uniform, as jurisdictions have wide variations in policy and practice. To determine the impact of varying enforcement polices among jurisdictions, this study examined State arrest and incarceration trends as a whole in addition to a more detailed examination of the State's 12 largest counties. The research examined the impacts of strict drug law enforcement on violent crime, property crime, and drug-abuse rates from 1980 to 2001. The study found that some counties chose to combat drug abuse and related crime problems by making more felony and misdemeanor drug arrests, while other counties made fewer drug arrests and/or focused only on the worst (felony) drug offenses (manufacturing and trafficking). The latter group of counties had considerably more success in reducing crime, regardless of the dimensions of their drug abuse and crime problems. Given the ineffectiveness of the current State-level drug policy emphases, despite evidence of its ineffectiveness, future drug policy research should examine the political basis of current drug policies, specifically whether current policies are designed to accommodate vested interest groups and political agendas rather than to counter the drug problem effectively as measured empirically. 10 tables and 6 references