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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us Part III Research for Drug Policy The final part of this report examines the research now available to inform drug control policy, identifies important gaps in knowledge, and makes commensurate recommendations. Current policy instruments include an array of activities related to enforcement—domestic enforcement, interdiction, crop eradication, and administrative and informal sanctions—and a wide range of prevention and treatment programs being implemented throughout the country. It is inevitably difficult to assess the effects of the diverse activities that, taken together, comprise the nation’s effort to diminish illegal drug trafficking and use. The present state of knowledge varies considerably across the different policy instruments, with a considerable amount known about some instruments and little at all about others. In part, the state of knowledge reflects the differential investments that the nation has made in research and data collection. Research on enforcement has received very little support; as a consequence, we know very little about the effectiveness of the many dimensions of enforcement policy. Drug treatment research has been supported in a sustained, serious manner; as a consequence, a significant body of work exists. Prevention research has focused almost entirely on school-based programs, virtually ignoring the many other community-based efforts under way. The specificity of the committee’s recommendations varies across areas, reflecting variation in the state of knowledge. We begin our review in Chapter 5 with supply-reduction policy. This chapter and Chapter 6 contain the recommendations regarding the agenda
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us of principal concern to this committee: strengthening research and data on enforcement strategies. The discussion in Chapter 5 stresses the need for research on how drug suppliers respond to enforcement policy and, more broadly, the need for research on the operation of drug markets. The discussion in Chapter 6 pays particular attention to both tine declarative and deterrent effects of sanctions against use of illegal drugs. Given the high rate of incarceration under current drug sentencing and its financial and human costs, such research is imperative. In Chapter 7 the discussion turns to research on programs aimed at preventing or delaying drug use among children and youth. The widespread adoption of many prevention programs whose effects—beneficial or harmful—are unknown requires urgent research attention. Chapter 8 examines the use of randomized clinical trials to test the effectiveness of new treatment protocols in different settings, with diverse clients and for different types of drugs. Special attention is paid to the potential benefits and ethical problems of including no-treatment control groups in clinical trials. Choosing the right mix of instruments to control the sale of illegal drugs and reduce their use presents complex policy problems: there are many different lines of attack. The committee believes that sustained and systematic research efforts such as those recommended here are essential if the nation is to have any hope of improving the quality of its decision making.
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us 5 Supply-Reduction Policy To many, it seems obvious that reducing the supply of drugs offers an important way to control the drug problem. If there were no drugs to use, there would be no problem. If lesser quantities of drugs reached consumers in the United States, the problem would be diminished. If drugs were harder to find, or riskier to obtain, or simply more expensive, some potential users might be discouraged from starting, and some current users might seek treatment or abandon their use. In this chapter, we concentrate on enforcement and other policy instruments that aim to reduce drug supply. We discuss the problems of measuring or otherwise estimating the effectiveness of supply-reduction efforts, assess current knowledge of retail drug markets, explain why an understanding of these markets is important for supply-reduction policy, and assess knowledge of the extent to which arrested drug dealers may be replaced by others. Enforcement efforts directed at drug users are examined in Chapter 6. DIMENSIONS OF SUPPLY-REDUCTION POLICY Efficacy and Justice as Evaluative Criteria The belief that reducing the supply of drugs can help to control the drug problem is but one concern that drives the public commitment to enforcing the drug laws. In addition, the public enthusiasm for enforcement, including imprisonment of offenders, is supported by the view that
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us it is morally wrong to produce and sell drugs, and that those who do so despite laws prohibiting this activity ought to be punished. In short, many people believe not only that enforcement of drug laws helps to solve the problem of drug use, but also that enforcement advances the cause of justice. Of course, a countervailing libertarian view argues that government enforcement of drug laws intrudes on individual freedoms and hence should be minimized to the extent possible. For a committee of the National Research Council, the fact that some of the enthusiasm for enforcement derives from a moral view of what is right and wrong, as well as from a practical, empirical claim that such policies will succeed in controlling the drug problem creates a difficulty. Scientists know how to measure things and how to reach conclusions about whether a particular intervention works to solve a particular problem or achieve a specified goal. With respect to the question of what sorts of acts are good or bad, and what constitutes a good versus a bad effect, scientists have no special expertise to offer. In a democratic society, that is a job for all citizens, and their representatives, not for scientists alone. What scientists can do is to help citizens judge whether the practical reasoning that links drug enforcement and supply-reduction efforts to the severity of the drug problem is sound, and what the available empirical evidence seems to say about the efficacy of these efforts. That is what we aim to do in this chapter and the next. We note, however, that findings of either efficacy or inefficacy cannot determine whether the nation should enhance, reduce, or abandon efforts to reduce drug supply and to enforce drug laws. Such efforts could be supported even if ineffective if they were considered a just response to people who produce or sell drugs. And they could be abandoned even if considered effective if they came to be regarded as sufficiently unjust. The worst of all worlds would be one in which the nation supported drug enforcement efforts that were both ineffective and unjust. The best of all worlds would be one in which the policies used were both just and effective. The point is that supply-reduction and drug law enforcement efforts have to be evaluated in terms of their justice as well as their practical effect. It is important to think about whether it is bad to produce and sell prohibited drugs as well as whether it is effective in discouraging people from doing so by threatening to punish them. It is important to think about whether the laws that are enforced are fair, and whether they can be enforced fairly as well as whether the laws can help protect children from having early experiences with drug use that bode poorly for their future. In this discussion, we on occasion note issues of justice as well as efficacy, but it is important to emphasize that the committee’s expertise
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us lies in judgments about impact and efficacy against agreed-on objectives, not in our views of justice or social value. Supply-Reduction Policy and Drug Law Enforcement Supply-reduction policy is often treated as identical with drug law enforcement. While there is a substantial overlap among the interventions that belong in each category, there is an important conceptual difference between these ideas, and there are some policy interventions that belong in one category but not the other. Supply-reduction efforts include all those interventions that are made to reduce the availability of drugs to unauthorized users. This category includes many things that are not ordinarily thought of as drug law enforcement. For example, it includes efforts to persuade farmers in foreign countries to substitute legitimate crops for illegal drugs. It also includes efforts to police the regulatory boundary between drugs prescribed for legitimate users and those who would like to abuse them. Some activities, such as crop replacement, are supply-reduction efforts but are not law enforcement efforts. By the same token, drug law enforcement includes many interventions that do not aim to reduce the supply of drugs. For example, it is a crime in all states to possess and use certain drugs as well as to sell them. Nearly 1 million people a year are arrested for personal possession or use of small amounts of drugs (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1999a).1 Enforcement of laws prohibiting personal possession or use is properly seen as operating on the demand side rather than the supply side of the drug problem. Such enforcement adds the threat of arrest to all the other reasons that already exist to avoid using illegal drugs and brings current drug users into the criminal justice system, where they can be sent to jail or sent to drug treatment alternatives to jail. Plausible Efficacy: Reasoning About Supply-Reduction Efforts To begin our analysis of supply-reduction instruments, it is useful to lay out the logic that links supply-reduction policy to drug use. Many common errors of reasoning show up in policy debates about supply-reduction policy. Some drug policy analysts appear to believe that supply-reduction efforts fail to deter drug use because most drug users are addicted and 1 It was sale of alcohol, not possession for home use, that was prohibited during Prohibition. Except in a few states, individuals were always allowed to manufacture and use alcohol for their own use, yet the policy was viewed as prohibition. It is clear that the nation’s drug policy is much more prohibitive than Prohibition was (Bonnie and Whitebread, 1974).
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us compulsive in their use; they will “do anything” and “pay anything” to consume drugs.2 If this is true, then supply-reduction efforts can have very little effect on the quantity of drugs consumed. Rather, such efforts simply act to increase the profits of illegal dealers by enabling them to raise the prices of drugs. This argument ignores the possibility that users and potential users who are not yet addicted to drugs could be dissuaded from experimenting with them by high prices or by the inconvenience and danger of buying drugs. It also ignores the possibility that increases in the price and inconvenience of buying drugs may cause older users who are tired of “the life” to make serious efforts to quit their use. Effects such as these appear to occur with changes in price for legal addictive commodities, such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Why shouldn’t they occur for heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and amphetamines? Indeed, the best current estimates of the elasticity of cocaine consumption with respect to price is that it lies between –0.59 and –2.5: if accurate, this means that a 10 percent increase in the price of the illegal drugs will lead to at least a 5.9 percent reduction in overall levels of use. Apparently it is not true that all drug users will do anything or pay any price (although some of them will do a lot and pay a lot) for drugs. If drug users can be discouraged from using drugs by high prices, unavailability, or risks associated with buying and using drugs, and if enforcement and supply-reduction efforts can raise the price and risks, then these efforts may succeed in dissuading new users from starting, experimental users from advancing to higher levels of use, and advanced users from continuing to use drugs even when treatment is available to them. Other researchers suggest that drug enforcement and supply-reduction efforts will fail because they cannot succeed in meaningfully raising the price or reducing the availability of drugs. In this view, there is a plentiful supply of people willing to run the moral, economic, and physical risks of dealing drugs for the profit that can be earned. One can agree that there are many people in sufficiently desperate circumstances that dealing in drugs represents a relatively attractive income earning opportunity. But there are many things about dealing in drugs that are unattractive and are made unattractive by its illegal status. In thinking about how drug enforcement affects opportunities for drug dealing, one begins with the idea that each dealer is threatened with the prospect of arrest and 2 Researchers have debated the effect of price increases in light of drug addiction; see Barthold and Hochman (1988), Chaloupka (1991), Warner (1991), Pollak (1976, 1970), and Winston (1980). Research that reports findings of low sensitivity to price in the short run includes Becker, Grossman, and Murphy (1991), Becker and Murphy (1988), and Chaloupka (1991).
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us imprisonment. But the greater risk may come not from the police, but from other dealers and criminals. Indeed, from the point of view of a drug dealer, one of the worst consequences of the illegality of drugs is that the police and courts do not assist in enforcing contracts and providing security. A drug dealer must absorb all the costs of contract enforcement and security, possibly to the point of being willing to use violence. Dealing drugs is an economically and physically risky business. That fact dissuades some people from entering the business. It also motivates those people who enter to demand compensation for their risks by increasing the price. In addition, dealers must manage their inventories and transactions so as to minimize the risks of theft and arrest. This means that drugs flow through the supply system less openly and more expensively than would be true if drugs were legal. Indeed, current estimates indicate that the price of illegal drugs is much above the price that would obtain if they were sold in legitimate markets (discussed below). This is a combined effect of both the illegal status of the drugs (which expose drug dealers to attacks from other criminals even if the police do nothing) and of enforcement efforts (which expose drug dealers to the specific threat of arrest by government agents). It is difficult to know what portion of that price increase should be attributed to what effect, but it does suggest that making drugs illegal does increase their price. Economic theory is unequivocal about the direction of the effect of drug law enforcement on total supply. Enforcement tends to reduce the supply of drugs because it makes drug dealing more risky, demanding, and unpleasant than it would be if drugs were legal. Therefore, at any given price, smaller quantities of drugs come into the market than would be the case in the absence of antidrug laws and law enforcement. How big this effect is and how much it matters in reducing drug use and the adverse consequences of drug use are empirical questions. As we discuss in the remainder of this chapter, the answers to these questions are unknown at present. A main concern of this chapter is the quality of available empirical evidence on the effectiveness of supply-reduction efforts. Economic or other theory does not provide a basis for making confident or quantitative judgments about the effectiveness of these efforts. Empirical evidence of efficacy is needed to evaluate the benefits and costs of the substantial investments that the nation has made in supply reduction. The required evidence is largely nonexistent. The problem is not just that the relevant studies have not been done. Systems for acquiring the needed data are inadequate or nonexistent. Moreover, the analytic problems of inferring efficacy would be highly complex even if good data were available. The committee makes several recommendations about what can be done to improve evidence on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of supply-reduc-
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us tion efforts. Developing this evidence is an urgent matter, for the nation’s investment in supply reduction, in terms of both money and the exercise of state authority, is very large. The next two sections introduce the two main modes of research that have been used to evaluate supply-reduction policy. Impulse-response analysis seeks to draw causal inferences directly from temporal sequences of events without specifying the mechanism leading from the hypothesized cause (the impulse) to the suspected effect (the response).3 Systems research refers to the development of formal models of the behavior of agents who interact in a social system and the use of such models to predict system outcomes as policy varies. IMPULSE-RESPONSE ANALYSIS The principle of impulse response analysis is remarkably simple: interventions take place and one observes the consequences. Impulse-response analysis has much appeal when an intervention of interest is the only notable event occurring in a time period under study. Laboratory experiments conducted in tightly controlled environments aim to achieve this ideal. When it is not possible to ensure that the intervention of interest is the only notable event, researchers often recommend performance of multiple independent experiments with randomized assignment of interventions. Randomized assignment enables a probabilistic form of impulse-response analysis from which one may learn the distribution of responses following an intervention of interest. On occasion, natural experiments in uncontrolled environments may approximate the conditions of laboratory or randomized experiments. Supply-reduction interventions are neither performed in the controlled environments of laboratories nor randomized in the field. Measurements of the response variable of most direct interest, namely the supply of drugs, are not readily available. For these reasons, impulse-response analysis of supply-reduction policy poses a formidable challenge. In the absence of data on drug supply, impulse-response analysis of supply-reduction policy has mainly sought to connect policy to domestic drug prices. Standard economic analysis predicts that if interdiction and domestic enforcement succeed in reducing the supply of drugs, then the price of drugs will rise, and consumption of drugs will fall, everything 3 Macro economists studying how an outcome (e.g., gross domestic product) responds to some factor (e.g., a percentage change in interest rate) coined the term “impulse response” analysis (see Frisch, 1933). Another term commonly used to describe the same basic methodology is “stimulus-response analysis.”
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us else being equal. This motivates analysis that attempts to relate enforcement activities to domestic drug prices.4 Figure 5.1 portrays the standard economic reasoning. The curve labeled “Demand” shows the quantity of a drug that consumers wish to purchase at any given price, and the curve labeled “Supply0” shows the quantity that producers are willing to sell at any given price. The intersection of the supply and demand curves is the market equilibrium: the price P0 at which the quantities demanded and supply are equal, so that the market is in balance. If the government were to intensify interdiction, domestic enforcement, and other supply-reduction activities, the cost of production would rise and thus shift the supply curve up. The result, everything else being equal, would be a new equilibrium with a higher price (P1) and lower consumption (Q1). This is the classic view of the effect of supply-reduction policy on the market. A formal impulse-response analysis of supply reduction policy was performed in the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) study (Crane et al., 1997) assessed by the committee in its Phase I report. This research sought to connect specific interdiction activities (what we refer to as the impulse) to particular subsequent domestic drug price fluctuations (what we refer to as the response). It also sought to connect aggregate spending on interdiction (the impulse) to long-term trends in domestic drug prices (the response). Informal use of impulse-response analysis is common in public discussions of supply-reduction policy. Time-series data describing spending on enforcement are often juxtaposed with data on drug prices, the idea being that the effects of enforcement should be seen in the price data. We first examine issues that arise in impulse-response analysis relating specific enforcement activities to particular fluctuations in domestic drug prices. We then consider in some depth the use of long-term trends in domestic drug prices to assess the effectiveness of supply-reduction policy writ large. 4 Public officials sometimes call attention to the magnitude of drug seizures and suggest that seizures show the success of enforcement. However, there is no clear way to relate seizures to drug supply. Seizures may induce traffickers to initiate new shipments to replace goods captured in transit, in which case the quantities of drugs entering the United States and reaching local markets may fall by much less than the amount seized, perhaps not at all. Or seizures may increase traffickers’ perceptions of the riskiness of the drug trade, and so deter them from initiating new shipments. If so, drug quantities may fall by more than the amount seized. We do not know the extent to which replacement occurs or the magnitude of the deterrent effects of enforcement. Hence data on seizures alone should not be used to judge the effectiveness of enforcement.
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us FIGURE 5.1 Supply and demand for illicit drugs As noted earlier, measurement of the time-series variation in drug prices is problematic at present. There are also difficulties in characterizing the timing and character of enforcement activities. The discussion below focuses on issues that would arise even if satisfactory data were available. Enforcement Activities and Domestic Drug Price Fluctuations Efforts to connect specific enforcement activities to particular price fluctuations must inevitably confront the basic fact that enforcement activities are not the only notable events that may affect drug prices. It is unreasonable to suppose that, except for enforcement activities, the supply and demand forces that determine drug prices are stable over time. One obvious source of price fluctuations is time-series variation in drug demand. For example, the demand for cocaine may fluctuate as a result of changing attitudes toward cocaine consumption, a changing mix of light and heavy users, and changing patterns of enforcement and penalties for cocaine possession. Another source of price fluctuations may be variation
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us in the supply of drugs due to changing source country conditions, from weather to political stability. Even if all determinants of drug prices except enforcement were time-invariant, the dynamics that connect enforcement to domestic drug prices would be complex. An enforcement activity undertaken in a specific place and time presumably does not generate an instant response in drug prices. Does the response in drug prices begin to appear a week, month, or year following the enforcement activity? Does the response persist for a week, month, year, or longer before dissipating? The time path of the response in drug prices presumably depends on the nature of the enforcement activity, on the inventories of drugs held by traffickers in domestic and foreign locations, on the speed with which new drug production can replace seizures, and on the deterrent effect of the enforcement activity on trafficking. Moreover, the time path of the response may vary geographically, depending on the nature of the drug distribution networks and enforcement activities in different locales. If a single enforcement activity could be undertaken in isolation, as in a laboratory experiment, it would be relatively straightforward to track the time path of the response in drug prices. However, what we actually observe results from the conjunction of numerous enforcement activities undertaken in different times and places, as well as of the many other forces operating on the demand and supply of drugs. This considerably complicates analysis. The difficulty of carrying out impulse-response analysis is well illustrated by the large upward fluctuation in cocaine prices that the STRIDE data (described in Chapter 3) show to have occurred in 1990. Accepting the STRIDE data as valid, for purposes of the present discussion, the price of domestic cocaine increased sharply between mid-1989 and mid-1990. It returned to its early 1989 level between mid-1990 and late 1991. The price increase occurred shortly after the Bush administration’s war on drugs began, suggesting that the war may have contributed to the increase. The war on drugs included a variety of enforcement activities. It is not possible to determine through impulse-response analysis the separate effects of these actions. Moreover, the war on drugs and the 1990 price increase also roughly coincided with the dismantling of the Medellin cartel in Colombia, which may have caused a temporary increase in the price of cocaine by temporarily disrupting production and distribution operations. If one had independent evidence on the magnitude of the response to the collapse of the Medellin cartel, then it might be possible to infer the combined effects of the various actions undertaken during the war on drugs, but no such evidence is available. Thus, considerable uncertainty exists as to the cause of the largest upward fluctuation in domestic cocaine prices in the past 15 to 20 years.
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us local market may be substantially diminished if an entire crew is arrested, although in the longer run there is likely to be some degree of adaptation and replacement. Even in the short run, access to drugs may change little if buyers purchase drugs from several local crews simultaneously. Focusing on the replacement of local crews provides an incomplete picture of whether recent increases in the incapacitation of drug dealers have resulted in significant reductions in local drug markets. The capacity to disrupt illegal drug markets will also depend on whether large numbers of the drug market’s most powerful operatives have been incapacitated. Traffickers, who typically transport drugs from the source countries and arrange to have them smuggled into the United States, handle large volumes of drugs and operate within wide geographic ranges—at the international and interstate level (U.S. Sentencing Commission, 1995; Cooper, 1990; Wisotsky, 1986; Natarajan and Belanger, 1998). Similarly, wholesalers, who supply mid-level dealers, who in turn supply retail sellers, likewise buy and sell drugs in volume. By contrast, local crews such as those described above operate within the limited scope of a single neighborhood and handle much smaller volumes of drugs. Incapacitating these high-level participants in the drug trade could have a substantial impact on shrinking drug markets, because in many ways they are likely to be the most difficult to replace. High-level traffickers and importers require contacts in both producer and transport nations or in different states in order to operate. They also require large sums of money to funnel into bribes, transport equipment (planes, boats, etc.) and personnel (e.g., couriers). Because these resources are required for high-level distribution, there is a limit on the size of the labor pool with the necessary contacts and capital to operate at this level (Moore, 1990; Covington, 2000b). There are likely to be fewer substitutes for persons at the top of the pyramid. Certainly, the effects of incarceration on the retail drug market depend on whether the incapacitated offender can be replaced. They also depend, of course, on how long the replacement process takes. Even if there eventually is full replacement, supply may be driven down temporarily if the replacement process takes time. With some dealers being incarcerated and new ones taking their place, the key question is whether enforcement removes people at a faster rate than the market adapts to their absence. The effect of incarceration may also vary by the type of drug. Covington (2000b) highlights two features of the market for crack cocaine. First, since crack is often “manufactured” using powder cocaine, the retail supply of crack depends on the amount of powder cocaine imported and sold at wholesale. Thus, incarcerating powder cocaine dealers may affect the market for both crack and powder cocaine.
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us Second, current law focuses much more on incapacitating dealers of crack than of powder cocaine. Sale of 5 gm of crack cocaine triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in a federal prison, whereas it takes 500 gm of powder cocaine to trigger the same minimum 5-year sentence. This 100:1 ratio in the amount of powder cocaine required to trigger the same penalties as crack suggests that local crack dealers are receiving the same penalties as powder cocaine wholesalers and importers. The current penalty for sale of small amounts of crack cocaine has certainly imposed large costs of incarceration on society, as well as obvious costs on the individuals imprisoned (see Covington, 2000b). The value of the law depends on the degree to which it disrupts drug markets and on the extent to which incarcerated street level dealers are replaced. How much have the recent increases in incarceration thinned the ranks of major traffickers, importers, and local distributors? To what extent is there replacement and how rapidly does it occur? Do the social costs of current rates of incarceration outweigh the benefits? In particular, with the growth of the population incarcerated for drug offenses, a critical question that must be addressed is the impact of imprisonment and sentence length on post-release consequences. Does the prison experience inhibit (through individual deterrence) or promote (through criminalization), further drug offending or other criminal activity, particularly by ex-offenders who participate in the drug markets as an economic activity? The committee would like to be able to answer these pressing questions, but the answers are elusive. Blumstein (1993) has argued that replacement of dealers largely negates any incapacitative effects of incarceration. He highlights the large growth in the drug arrests of non-white juveniles after 1985, well after the growth in arrest of non-white adults began in 1980. Their arrest rate for drug offenses almost tripled between 1985 and 1989, a time when the nation’s incarceration rate for drug offenses also almost tripled (Blumstein and Beck, 1999). He associates the recruitment of juveniles as a supply-side response to the growth in demand and as replacements for the incarcerated adults (Blumstein, 1995). Conclusions and Recommendations The committee concludes that little is known about the effectiveness of law enforcement operations against retail drug markets. In particular, the consequences of increasing or decreasing current levels of enforcement are not known. It is not known whether a significant decrease in law enforcement activity would lead to a significant increase in drug dealing and use. Nor is it known whether a significant increase in law enforcement would have the opposite effect.
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us There is little likelihood of learning more about the effectiveness of law enforcement in the near future. Answering important questions about the effectiveness of law enforcement requires reliable data on drug consumption, drug prices, the numbers of drug dealers that operate in cities, and the responses of dealers to law enforcement operations and opportunities in the legitimate labor market. As discussed in Chapter 3 and this chapter, such data are nonexistent at present. The committee has made recommendations about how this situation might be remedied. Carrying out these recommendations is a prerequisite to acquiring a better understanding of the effectiveness of law enforcement actions against retail drug markets. In addition, it is necessary to explore alternative approaches to law enforcement. This should include investigating the effects of decreases as well as increases in law enforcement activity. Changes in drug enforcement policy should be designed so that their consequences can be measured and separated from the effects of other factors that influence drug markets. Arrangements must be made to acquire the data needed to evaluate the consequences of the actions that are taken. Such data is best acquired from state and local governments, supported with funding from the federal government. Agencies responsible for providing assistance to state and local jurisdictions should provide financial incentives for collecting data and for creating partnerships with researchers to evaluate outcomes. The committee recommends that state and local governments be encouraged to explore and assess alternative approaches to law enforcement, including decreases as well as increases in the intensity of enforcement. Organizational arrangements should be made to ensure that the resulting changes in law enforcement measures and policy are well designed and that the data needed to evaluate their consequences are acquired and analyzed. Under some circumstances, it may be ethical and appropriate to carry out randomized-design experiments in which different neighborhoods in a city are assigned randomly to increased or decreased enforcement regimes. For example, if the police do not have the resources needed to maintain equally high levels of enforcement in all drug-dealing neighborhoods, then some neighborhoods necessarily will receive less enforcement than others. It may then be appropriate to randomly assign varying levels of enforcement among neighborhoods. Regardless of the designs of alternative approaches to enforcement, evaluation criteria should include levels of crime, violence, and community disruption as well as levels of drug consumption and numbers of drug dealers. Evaluation criteria may also include measures of the fair-
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us ness with which different population segments are treated by law enforcement agents. The committee emphasizes that an improved understanding of the effectiveness of local law enforcement can be achieved only through such exploration combined with acquisition of data on drug consumption, prices, and labor market variables. FINAL NOTE: EVENHANDEDNESS IN ENFORCEMENT The nation has long maintained the expectation that law enforcement should be fair as well as effective. In particular, Americans expect that enforcement efforts will not target members of specific socioeconomic or demographic groups. As the Supreme Court stated in Yick Wo v. Hopkins in 1886, law enforcement officials violate the Constitution if they apply an otherwise valid law “with an evil eye and an unequal hand so as practically to make unjust discriminations between persons in similar circumstances.” While society’s concern for evenhandedness in enforcement is a normative matter, this concern generates empirical questions on which data and research can shed light: How evenhanded is enforcement policy today? What would alternative policies achieve? A flash point of recent public discussions of evenhandedness in drug law enforcement has been the striking disparities between the racial or ethnic composition of the U.S. population and the racial or ethnic distribution of persons arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for drug offenses. In the year 1997, the U.S. population was estimated to be 82.7 percent white, 10.9 percent Hispanic, and 12.7 percent black. In the same year, those arrested for state drug offenses were estimated to be 62 percent white (the FBI’s arrest data do not differentiate between non-Hispanic and Hispanic whites) and 36.8 percent black (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999:342). Among persons convicted for felony drug offenses in state courts in 1996, 45 percent were white and 53 percent were black (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999:432; note that there are no comparable data for 1997). Among state prisoners serving time for drug offenses in 1997, 41.5 percent were white (22.5 percent Hispanic and 19 percent non-Hispanic white) and 56.1 percent were black (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999— Prisoners in 1998, page 10, table 16). While the existence of these disparities is widely acknowledged, there is no consensus about their interpretation. Some argue that the large disparity in arrest (37 percent black compared to 12 percent black in the population, or an arrest rate of blacks that is three times that of whites) is an indication of disproportionate surveillance in black neighborhoods and/or bias in arresting black users and sellers. They argue that NHSDA data show little difference between the races in their use of drugs (see
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us below). Others argue that most drug arrests are not only in response to drug use, per se, but also to other types of illegal drug-related activity and that these arrests generate a large proportion of drug possession arrests. They also argue that blacks selling drugs tend more often to operate in street markets, whereas whites tend to operate more surreptitiously; hence the difference in arrest rates may be attributable to different vulnerability to arrest rather than to racial bias in the arrest process. A similar argument arises over the difference between the black arrest percentage (37 percent) and the black prison percentage (56 percent). Some argue that these data show that the post-arrest operation of the criminal justice system is biased against blacks. They cite the 100:1 disparity in the federal sentencing rules for crack (predominantly sold by blacks) compared to powder cocaine (much more often sold by whites) as an indication of that bias. A counter-argument is that crack use and crack markets are much more often accompanied by violence, which warrants more severe treatment in the criminal justice system. In addition, it has been argued that the race of convicted drug offenders may be correlated with other factors, such as prior record, that can account for the differences in sentence severity. These polar views, as well as intermediate hypotheses, can co-exist because we lack the data and research necessary to resolve the controversy. Perhaps the most basic problem is that we lack data on offense rates by racial/ethnic groups. It is clear that use prevalence rates do not vary substantially among racial and ethnic groups. Based on the 1998 NHSDA data, it has been estimated that 74.3 percent of all current (past 30 day) illegal drug users are white, 15.4 percent are black, and 10.3 percent are Hispanic, substantially equivalent to their proportions of the adult population. For cocaine, in particular, 64.8 percent of 30-day users were white, 18 percent were black and 16.9 percent were Hispanic. However, these basic prevalence figures do not tell the whole story because frequency of use (and therefore the real rate of offending) among various population groups is unknown. Most importantly, household surveys miss the heaviest users. Finally, rates of trafficking are unknown. In the absence of data about rates of offending, the available information on contacts with the criminal justice systems is consistent with multiple interpretations. These issues are clearly complicated, and a simple comparison of race-specific ratios at different parts of the criminal justice system cannot prove bias, although they do prompt a search for a clearer explanation of the reasons for the difference. Until those explanations arrive, it is likely that concern about the possibility of bias will continue. Thus, it is important that research be directed at tine factors that can explain the significant
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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us shift in the prevalence of blacks from use to arrest to conviction to imprisonment. The committee has recommended better data on frequency and amount of consumption, as well as initiation of survey research on the labor supply of illegal drug dealers. These data are needed to better understand the impact of interventions on intensity of consumption and the operation of retail drug markets. The same survey research would enable the nation to make progress in determining how well enforcement meets the normative expectation of evenhandedness. Research is also needed to determine the degree to which demonstrated racial differences in contact with the criminal justice system reflect enforcement policies that are racially neutral in intent but nevertheless yield disparate outcomes. For example, most drug arrests are produced by so-called street enforcement in urban areas, rather than by searches of private residences, bars, or clubs. To some, this may be an adequate explanation of the racial composition of arrests; to others, it may suggest that law enforcement agencies should change their priorities in order to erase the appearance of unfairness (Stuntz, 1998; Covington, forthcoming). What it suggests to the committee is the urgent need for research on drug law enforcement practices, such as street sweeps and vehicle stops, that have been shown to produce racially and ethnically disparate outcomes. REFERENCES Arrow, K.J. 1962 The economic implications of learning by doing. Review of Economic Studies 29(3):155–173. Barthold, T.A., and H.M.Hochman 1988 Addiction as extreme-seeking. Economic Inquiry 26:89–106. Beck, Allen J., M.Tonry, and J.Petersilia, eds. 1999 Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 26:17–61. Becker, G.S., M.Grossman, and K.M.Murphy 1994 An empirical analysis of cigarette addiction. American Economic Review 84:396– 418. 1991 Rational addiction and the effect of price on consumption. American Economic Review 81:237–241. Becker, G.S., and K.M.Murphy 1988 A theory of rational addiction. Journal of Political Economy 96:675–700. Blumstein, A. 2000 The Replacement of Drug Offenders to Diminish the Effects of Incarceration. Unpublished paper prepared for the Committee on Data and Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs. 1995 Youth violence, guns, and the illicit-drug industry. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 86(4):10–36.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: