« Is it fair to read the Constitution as evidence the Framers were not fans of finality? | Main | "It's time to televise executions" »

May 10, 2014

"Drugs and Violence"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and important new paper I just noticed via SSRN authored by Shima Baradaran. Here is the abstract:

The war on drugs has increased the United States prison population by tenfold.  The foundation for the war on drugs and unparalleled increase in prisoners rely on the premise that drugs and violence are linked.  Politicians, media, and scholars continue to advocate this view either explicitly or implicitly.

This Article identifies the pervasiveness of this premise, and debunks the link between drugs and violence.  It demonstrates that a connection between drugs and violence is not supported by historical arrest data, current research, or independent empirical evidence. That there is little evidence to support the assumption that drugs cause violence is an important insight, because the assumed causal link between drugs and violence forms the foundation of a significant amount of case law, statutes, and commentary.

In particular, the presumed connection between drugs and violence has reduced constitutional protections, misled government resources, and resulted in the unnecessary incarceration of a large proportion of non-violent Americans.  In short, if drugs do not cause violence — and the empirical evidence discussed in this Article suggests they do not — then America needs to rethink its entire approach to drug policy.

May 10, 2014 at 10:36 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Drugs and Violence":


Start a movement to outlaw tobacco. It kills millions. The judges who sign the warrants and sentencing orders on people who smoke pot or snort coke will be smoking their cigarette and not put two and two together. Yet the judge is likely to die of cancer, heart disease and smell like a goat. Putting tobacco on the table as an outlawed product will give some insight to the sightless.

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 10, 2014 2:14:00 PM

I guess all of us who have seen the connection firsthand are just blind and ignorant fools. I'd love to know how many years this author spent, herself, in the criminal justice trenches.

Posted by: Zachary B. | May 10, 2014 6:38:16 PM

Opinions on content aside, and with full respect to Professor Berman, I see this SSRN article as an obvious attempt to bait Bill Otis to coming back to this comment section.

Posted by: Eric | May 10, 2014 9:08:35 PM

The war on drugs has increased the United States prison population by tenfold
saved victims of druggie killers and drug gang drve-by shooters by tenfold?

Posted by: Adamakis | May 10, 2014 10:21:34 PM

I've spent more than a decade practicing criminal defense law. In my experience, violence associated with drug offenses is rare. Granted, just like law enforcement, prosecutors, and politicians, I do not have rigorous, empirically based, peer-reviewed studies to back up my claims. Just like those other stakeholders in the system, I can rely only on my training and experience. But my experience certainly bears out the article's claims.

In fact, when I have seen violence associated with drugs, it tends to occur in two situations. First, there are violent people who also commit drug crimes. That is, these are people who would just as soon start a fight with someone for looking at their girlfriend as they would to protect their drug supply. They are mean, arrogant, violent bastards whether they are straight or high, and they are just generally bad people. They also like to use or sell drugs, but the drugs are just as peripheral to their violence as, say, automobiles are. The second situation where violence tends to occur is where the police precipitate it.

As for the article, it's almost as if everything the government's told us about drugs has been false. Who'da thunk it?

Posted by: C.E. | May 11, 2014 1:55:20 AM

I think there's a link between organized crime and violence (particularly the less organized organized crime like MS-13, but even Cosa Nostra when there's a power vacuum at the top can be pretty frickin violent). Illegal drugs are a lucrative business for organized crime, which leads to a correlation between drugs, organized crime, and violence. But to think drugs are the source of the violence is to confuse effect for cause.

Posted by: Erik M | May 11, 2014 11:45:14 AM

C.E.: The adjudicated charge is fictitious in 95% of cases. If I were a serial killer drug dealer who dispatched hundreds of competitors, I would not reveal that to my defense lawyer. I would act as a non-violent dealer while talking to you. But someone committed the excess murders of the 1980's. And we still have 100,000 unresolved missing persons cases a year. Any murderer with intelligence would clean up after himself and hide the body. The murder rate may not be 15,000 a year, it might be 50,000 a year.

Criem dropped 40% across the board after mandatory guidelines stopped the coddling of criminals by pro-criminal judges. It would be an interesting grad student project to see if the unresolved missing persons cases also dropped 40%. That would be shocking but not surprising. It would imply that the murder rate is the tip of an iceberg upon we will be crashed again by the pro-criminal lawyer and judge profession. You are pro-ccriminal, not out of some virtuous characteristic, but in bad faith, to make a living off crime. It is in bad faith because you do not disclose this conflict of interest before any comment.

I demand that all lawyers add the following disclosure to all communications about crime, whether in the defense or prosecutor bar.

"I am a lawyer. My income and job security increase if crime is maintained or increased. This is true of all legal specialties because criminal law consumes the service of competing lawyers."

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 11, 2014 3:28:00 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB