Violence, Not Drugs, Drives Mass Incarceration

We all want a free lunch, we may explain why so many people cling to the myth that prisons are populated with non-violent drug offenders, and mass incarceration and racial disparities too can be resolved simply by releasing some harmless pot smokers from behind bars. But it just isn’t so, as the data below show.

Some people change their mind when they see disconfirming evidence regarding something they believe. Others dig in, almost religiously, in this case by saying that these data prove even more their original view that the War on Drugs is the main cause of mass incarceration, because violence is all due to drugs and drug enforcement. Pity the faithful: a new analysis by The Economist of urban homicides shows that only 4% are drug-related, meaning 24 out of every 25 are not.

If you want to see how two bold, innovative scholar-reformers are grappling with the world of prison reform as it is rather than how we might wish it to be, check out my new Washington Post Wonkblog.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.