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U.S. Leads World In Prison Population By Wide Margin; Failed Drug Policies Blamed

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A new report by the London School of Economics concludes that the war on drugs "has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage" and points to the enormously high incarceration rate in the United States as evidence that it is time for a new strategy.

By a wide margin, the United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in the world, and many of those prisoners are doing time for drug offenses.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle earlier this year said that the prison population locally, and the country as a whole, is out of control.

"We have five percent of the world's population, 314 million people, but 25 percent of the people in the entire world who are in jail or prison," said Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle attributed the high percentage to incarceration of black and brown people at astronomical rates. And many of those inmates are drug offenders--and are often repeat criminals.

"86 percent of the people in my jail are black and brown," Preckwinkle said this past January.

She said it's costing the county moral capital as well as millions of dollars. She has pledged to push for more pre-trial release and jail diversion programs for non-violent offenders.

The London School Of Economics report "Ending The Drug Wars" finds that drug offenses are estimated at 40 percent of the 9 million individuals incarcerated globally.

And many of these offenders don't get proper treatment for drug use and are likely to simply return to society and repeat the same behavior, often violating their paroles by using or selling drugs again.

"An analysis of US recidivism patterns of 40,000 offenders released from state prisons in 1994 discovered that 56.2 percent resumed their pre-incarceration offending trajectories after release," the report said.

There are health risks, too. The report found that mass incarceration contributes to the continued high incidence of HIV in the United States, particularly among minorities.

The report also said that nearly 60 percent to 83 percent of the nation's prisoners have used drugs, which is double the estimated drug use of the total U.S. population.

"The strategy has failed based on its own terms," the report's authors said. "Evidence shows that drug prices have been declining while purity has been increasing. This has been despite drastic increases in global enforcement spending. Continuing to spend vast resources on punitive enforcement-led policies, generally at the expense of proven public health policies, can no longer be justified."

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