The House I Live In, a documentary exploring the effects of the “War on Drugs” on families, communities and users, offers an emotionally compelling glimpse into the lives of individuals who are often left voiceless. The disturbing truth of the drug-related charges that often leave families in turmoil is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy and all parties involved have become trapped in a vicious cycle of legal technicalities, discrimination, unfortunate circumstances and heartache.
The War on Drugs has disproportionately imprisoned minorities on drug charges, as explored thoroughly in the film as well as within The New Jim Crow. While this discrepancy has been “slowly declining”, it is this minority people who face the consequences for these misleading “crime rates” that “reinforce negative racial narratives” that perpetuate the idea that minorities ‘belong’ in prison, relating back to the self-fulfilling prophecy (New Jim Crow, p. 97). If people are expected and treated as if they shall act a certain way or do a certain thing, it becomes more likely they will. This has proven true for certain racial/social assumptions that became subconsciously reinforced by social structures and interactions like aspects of Jim Crow laws involved with the imprisonment of African American individuals (The New Jim Crow, p.127).
There are many aspects of this War on Drugs that makes an improvement to the overall system failure challenging. The privatization of prison systems complicates this process not only socially, but economically. The privatized prisons provide much needed employment in areas that have few other options, but they also demand prisons keep their beds full in order to continue to be a profitable business, as was addressed by various course readings as well as the film. Most of the prisoners occupying this space have been placed there on drug related charges. Ending the War on Drugs or decriminalizing drug use and putting more emphasis on recovery and psychological treatment would negatively affect this business and put countless people out of jobs. With no other places to work, a wave of poverty could ensue in these areas. The film addressed this very well, and pointed out the problems with fixing the entirety of the system realistically. There are many political and economic reasons that it is unwise to put an end to these systems. The film did little to explore other ways that the cycle could be broken and did not seem to indicate that it would be any time in the near future. I would have liked to see alternate ideas, even if they may not be as large scale.
Theoretically speaking, the federal government could end the war on drugs and the dreaded “Chain of Destruction” completely, and by some twisted miracle/disaster, legalize all drugs for recreational purposes. Chaos would follow at first, there would be overdoses I am sure but to prepare for this, funds could be diverted away from prisons, that would not be needing as much funding soon and toward recovery assistance. Psychological help centers could be opened and efforts could be made by the media to destigmatize drug abuse so more people would be encouraged to seek help.
People with nonviolent offenses and minor drug charges could be released, and the concentration of minorities in prison would instantly be reduced as they make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population incarcerated for drug offenses. Though whites are reported to be the majority to engage in drug use more often, ¾’s of those imprisoned with these charges are black or latino (New Jim Crow, p.98). After things begin to normalize, dealers will begin to rise, but now that all drugs are legal, they can be regulated to an extent. Similar to progressive marijuana laws that allow an individual to possess some amount or so many cannabis plants, the production of drugs could be monitored and enforced (p.). People may start funding recreational drug research. Drugs may begin to be openly sold in small or diluted amounts. Capitalism may take hold of this industry, and drugs will begin to be mass manufactured, probably reducing meth lab explosions and kind of making up for the jobs lost as the prisons begin to house less inmates. The prison employees could be retrained to provide security at large drug manufacturing places or may become drug consultants as the market floods with new drug cocktails and creations. They may be able to identify substances for the new drug businesses and could be certified in some way to maintain safety. It would be a whole new world of insane production, that might help end certain types of racial and social problems, but at least law enforcement could focus on violent crime again, as was mentioned to be neglected in the film. Neglecting violent crime (murder) to catch a drug dealer is also insane. Just a thought.
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