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Essay on War on Drugs: Literature Review

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Kennedy (2011) concluded the War on Drugs had blackened prison populations for a number of years.

Diiulio (1995) based on the above evidence, was right to state that government policies can destroy families but it cannot create one. Alexander (2010) accused the War on Drugs for its inequality focus but also blamed the indifference of the White community for this expansion of penal imprisonment. Bobo et al. (2006) wrote that it is difficult for low-skilled young black guys to find employment. What are their chances when they have a criminal record attached to it? Petit and Wester (quoted in Bobo et al. ibid) concluded that there are more chances of a black person to be incarcerated than to get a bachelor’s degree. Diiulio (1995), observed that little attention has been paid to how Black residents feel about crime and also how they feel walking home alone late.

However, discrimination does not end with incarceration. It follows release from prison with no financial support for college (Small 2001). Following a conviction, Alexander (2010) wrote, freed inmates are banned from public housing and food stamps which causes further marginalization.

The War on Drugs has turned poverty from a social dysfunction to a law-breaking enterprise. Ghettoes, where concentrated unemployed, absent fathers were the norm. This created sense of ‘otherness’ since it had broken family ties, and socially outcast persons which meant danger. Chomsky (1998) wrote that by creating fear the state can control its own people. The War on Drugs is a discriminatory policy and by criminalizing the ‘dangerous classes’ it can claim that it is offering protection. Instead of concentrating on socioeconomic restructuring, the state has turned its claws to social control.

Chomsky (1998) saw through the state’s hypocrisy. He traced this target of the Black population back in the eighties when the economy grew for the elite but caused stagnation for the non-wealthy. The poor, lives were wavering between ‘difficulty and poverty’ (ibid, p.2)

According to Poverty Solution (2020), a study carried out by Michigan University, in 2019 there were 35 million people in the US living below the poverty line. This fact, Moore (2017) argued, created a ‘permanent underclass’ (ibid, p.681).

Katz (2013) argued that stereotypical attitudes toward ghettoes had an effect on policy outcomes. Even the term ‘underclass’ Katz (ibid) wrote was considered troublesome as it led journalists in making unflattering remarks about the poor citizens. Journalists, by focusing on crime, create the sentiment that race explains all crime. Poverty was presented as dysfunctional and criminogenic. A lifestyle choice that was reproduced with each generation. Presenting poverty in that light was ideologically beneficial as it had racial connotations that were embedded in the public consciousness. Therefore, the term ‘underclass’ might have been replaced by ‘ghetto poor’ by the policy remains the same.

Aside from the devastating effects on inner-city neighborhoods mentioned above, there are some other problems created by this policy.

King (2008) stated that the War on Drugs was not offense-driven like other crimes but it was based on political decisions. This meant, King (ibid) argued that since few report drug crimes to the police and therefore police have to rely more on surveillance. This might be interpreted as a violation of civil liberties. The right to privacy has been invaded as the urge to gather intelligence from the suspects has been paramount. This has created mistrust between the poorer communities and the police.

Harris (2012) concentrated on another problematic aspect of the policy (not dissimilar to King’s 2008) which is the War on Drugs is not ‘science-driven’ policing. This makes it susceptible to mistakes, misidentification, and misjudgments. Just like an eyewitness who identifies a suspect with absolute certainty can be wrong, so could a DNA match that seemed perfect could end up not being as accurate. Harris (ibid) added that in the year 2019, more than 250 pleas had been exonerated by DNA. In contrast to that, one doubts whether the War on Drugs would ever self-evaluate itself since it has disproportionately imprisoned people of color.

King (2008) commented on the lack of alternative avenues for dealing with drug addiction. By spending a fortune on the War on Drugs, (The budget given to the Drug Control Budget 2020 was $34.6 billion) little is left to explore possible treatment and drug therapy. Beckett (2000) also mentioned the ‘get-tough’ approach by many legislators. This entails tough penal sentences (since a crime is a problem that can be solved) rather than examining the socioeconomic conditions that create opportunities for crime. Garland (2001) called this ‘therapeutic nihilism’ and it is concerned with more penological measures than any rehabilitation programs.

Mauer (2007) asserted that drug treatment is more cost-effective than the ever-increasing prison complex. They reported that treatment reduces recidivism.

Moore (2017) cautioned that mistrust can play a part in counseling since historically speaking, the horrific treatment towards African-American communities had been so intense that many of them have a long-held suspicion towards the Whites. The above shows what effect the policy has in all its stages of implementation it, from the high number of arrests to the people not receiving treatment that could help them break out from this vicious circle.

Another problem with the War on Drugs according to Blachman et al. (1989) is the militarization of policing. This implies two things. Firstly, drugs are not treated as a social ill but as a warlike concern. By adding this enhanced level of urgency, the military has been given carte blanche in overtaking other law enforcement agencies which imply that only the military is equipped enough to deal with that threat. Militarised policing has become very visible (Steiner et al. 2001) as the Violent Crime Support Unit (VCSSU) and Special Weapons Attack Teams (SWAT) are seen as tactical units that have augmented the War on Drugs.

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The major concern with military involvement in a domestic setting is what message it sends out about carrying out searches in their own territory.

Blachman et al. (1989) raised another cause for concern as an outcome of the War on Drugs and it is on the officers themselves. Because the nature of drugs is based on illegality. There are many stages from producing to transporting, selling and buying that present opportunity for corruption that officers could succumb to. Police corruption does undermine faith in public officials and that is another pitfall created by the War on Drugs.

Another problem created by the War on Drugs when targeting poor neighborhoods is the locality of the arrests. Also, the focus on drug arrests has changed. King (2008) wrote that in the 80s the War on Drugs had concentrated on cocaine heroin-related offenses but after 1992, marijuana became the main target. This comes with its own set of problems as law enforcement agencies have paid less attention to other criminal offenses (Mauer 2007).

Any war has a beginning and an end. The end is achieved when the target has been hit and the objectives have been met. Continuous fighting lends itself to the idea of a long war where there is no truce in sight. The War on Drugs is a war like that. Armed with legislation and equipped with police enforcement agencies, it seems like a machine without a stop button. Being tough on crime will gather public support and this will lead for the introduction of tougher legislation and penal attitudes toward drugs. However public support can quickly turn to apathy when minority groups are prosecuted and the media always present them as addicts, jobless, or imprisoned.

Butler (1995) put forward the idea of ‘racially based nullification’. He suggested that Black jurors should prioritize the outcome for the Black community rather than deliberating whether the law has been broken. This suggestion by Butler borders with un-legalistic behavior since he places the outcome for the Black community higher than whether they are guilty or not. He has every right to be concerned with the disparity of the sentencing but this shows some disregard for the Law. If the unfairness of the policy put the defendant on the dock, then the verdict should not be left on the sidelines. Two wrongs would not make a right. Concerns for the outcome are taken into consideration when sentencing is due. Despite the evidence that the War on Drugs has bulldozed over civil rights, placing the verdict at a trial at a subsidiary role, would really put the cart before the horse. There is judicial discretion but as King (2008) wrote, but this could lead to further disparate outcomes for African Americans (ibid, p.26).

The War on Drugs, according to Small (2001) is a continuation of US racial oppression. This racialism dates back many years. Back at 1903, Bu Bois wrote that ‘the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line’ (p.12).

This policy, with its mass incarcerations (Garland 2001) maintained the ‘color line’ Du Bois wrote about. It created a disparity in how the criminal justice system is discriminating against people of color and therefore making Du Bois a secular prophet.

From the above, one clear conclusion is plain to see. The US racial oppression has not stopped. Small (2001) was right in saying the War on Drugs is a racist strategy since it does not prioritize crime-reducing but it does put people of color in prison at disproportionate rates. She made the accurate analogy of the slave ship being replaced by the apartheid criminal justice and the cotton plantations have been replaced by the ever-expanding prison complex.

The evidence presented here argued that the poor and the disadvantaged, because of the State’s policy, will have no chance to board ‘the train to freedom’. Freedom means social quality. Moore (2017) wrote, in Slavery that basic humanity for the slaves was absent just like absent is any fair play or sense of justice in whom the War of Drugs targets.

At what point do the authorities declare victory? By incarcerating more people or by decriminalizing drugs? According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2020), In 2019, there were 70.630 drug overdose deaths in the US and deaths from heroin alone were higher in 2019 than in 1999 so there is no clear-cut evidence who is winning this War.

Courtwright (2001) suggested legalization of drugs would put the policy back 100 years when coke was available and morphine could be purchased freely to alleviate pain. No one wants to lose a war but a ceasefire is not in sight. With the spending behind The War on Drugs, the employment of different enforcement agencies the US government has shown persistence in declaring and ultimately winning this War on Drugs. Mohammad et al. (2015) expressed their doubts as to whether a complex problem like drugs with all its variants and different chemicals, could all be dealt with by a single policy. A change of heart towards decriminalization might seem as a defeat, a lack of being ‘tough on crime and it would provoke the wrath of the voters.

On the contrary, Blachman et al. (1989) advocated decriminalization as they estimated the profits from drug deals (for the dealer) would have been halved, had they been legalized. According to Small (2001), New Mexico introduced a program for drug treatment that included restoring voting rights. King (2008) wrote that Seattle, Oakland, and Denver have de-prioritized cannabis arrests so that the police can concentrate on more serious matters. Delaware and Rhode Island considered changes in their anti-drug legislation but did not succeed. However, despite a change in Michigan Legislation in 1998, it was too small a change to have an impact. Under Michigan Law, anyone caught in possession of 650 grams of cocaine or heroin, would receive the same sentence as for first-degree murder which is life imprisonment, without parole. These are small gestures in comparison with the sovereign State power. Small cogs in a well-oiled machine.

This essay has argued that the War on Drugs has not prioritized the harm caused to society but is set up to punish and not cure. Threatening them as a legal concern rather than a great society hard, it has caused havoc in the lives of non-wealthy, non-White families. Kennedy (2011, p.269) was right to call it a ‘misguided campaign’ since it has exiled men and women from their neighborhoods and has separated mothers from their children. As Mohammad et al. (2005) pointed out, this makes it drugs a security concern and not a health issue.

All evidence suggests that the War on drugs was unfair by design as the victims are from the underprivileged and socially excluded areas that the police are over-policing. Similarly, to ask for a blood transfusion from someone who is bleeding. There are ethical considerations that one should adhere to.

The US declaration of Independence states: ‘All men are created equal. Ideas of equality, freedom, the Right to Life, and the Pursuit of Happiness are embedded in the American Dream whereas despite not having any clear-cut definition, most people would intuitively say these ideas are part of it.

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Essay on War on Drugs: Literature Review. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Essay on War on Drugs: Literature Review.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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