Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal


The war on drugs has resulted in sharp increases in prison sentences for many drug-related crimes. Due to the structure of the federal sentencing guidelines and the disparity in sentences relating to power cocaine and crack, the primary burden of these increased sentences has disproportionately affected poor African Americans. The war on drugs legislation has also had a marked impact on another population - the families and children of the incarcerated. This article discusses the rationales behind the war on drugs legislation, addressing both the initial enactments and subsequent statutes and cases that have changed the landscape of drug-related sentencing. The article then considers the practical effects of this legislation, both in terms of the desired impact and the unintended consequences. It discusses the disproportionate impact felt by poor African Americans, and surveys the sociological and psychological impacts of parental incarceration on school-age children, considering these impacts in light of decreases in social services and counseling in schools. Finally, the article discusses legislation and case law that further exacerbates the disproportionate effects of the war on drugs: the denial of public housing and educational financial aid, which serve to trap past offenders and their families in a cycle of crime and poverty. The author argues that in light of the failures of the war on drugs and the tremendous negative impacts it has had on society, much of the legislation should be repealed or amended to reverse these undesired outcomes.

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