In the past several years California has more than doubled the number of
drug arrests and obtained a 293% increase in the number of convictions
for drug offenses. At the same time probation has been limited for serious
drug offenses and the punishment for many controlled substance offenses
has been increased.
Partially as a result of California's crackdown on drug offenses our
prison population doubled between 1983 and 1989. Even with the eight new
state prisons under construction or authorized by the taxpayers our prison
system is projected to be at 213% of capacity by 1994. In the next decade
it will be extremely difficult to house the number of drug offenders entering
Despite the above efforts, drug crimes and related gang violence have continued
to increase. A significant factor in this increase is the neglect of many
of the underlying causes of drug abuse.
For example, the number of children living in poverty in California increased
by 47% between 1981 and 1987. The proportion of low-wage jobs in our largest
urban area has doubled while job and educational opportunities for young
people and minorities have declined.
Although California incarcerates youth at twice the national rate, young
people are entering the drug market and joining gangs at increasingly
higher rates and at a surprisingly early age. The most promising long-term
solution to the drug problem is to reduce the demand for drugs by providing
meaningful economic, educational and social opportunities for young people
and residents of urban areas.
The following should be included in the National Drug Control Strategy,
- A drug education program which includes employment counseling, job training
and placement, and other economic incentives as an alternative to the
- An infusion of federal funds to improve education, medical care, housing
and employment opportunities in deprived economic areas.
- An allocation formula which guarantees that funding for law enforcement
and drug education programs will go to the areas with the most serious
drug and gang problems.
- Involvement of local law enforcement as well as local community groups,
including organizations representing minorities, in the formulation of
community drug treatment and education programs.
- Funding for prenatal substance abuse treatment. Currently 17,000 to 30,000
babies are born each year in California having been exposed to drugs in
the womb. Many of these children are born with mental or physical disabilities
which will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in long-terms costs
to care for these children. A small investment in prenatal care and drug
treatment will result in a significant reduction in the social and economic
consequences which will otherwise result.
There are many ways of approaching the problem of drug abuse. It is clear
that the drug epidemic will not be eliminated, and will probably grow
worse, unless we attack the socioeconomic problems that have caused so
many young people to turn to drugs or the drug trade.
The federal government should take the lead in recognizing the link between
economic and social problems and drug abuse and develop a National Drug
Control Strategy which reflects this reality.
--drafted by James R. Provenza
FORUM, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1989, Vol.16, No.5