WEB EXCLUSIVE COLUMN: The drug dealing trap

Teddy Harris

The number of Americans in prison or jail custody has been increasing at 6.5 percent each year since 1990, and more than one-third of this growth is due to drug offenses (findarticles.com). More than 1.7 million Americans are now serving time. Some people worry that first-time drug offenders who spend years in jail will likely return to crime once they are paroled, using the connections they made while serving time. If this happens, the prison boom will become a vicious cycle. Or has it already happened?

The people who serve time in jail for drug offenses usually come from deprived poor neighborhoods where the perception of the future doesn’t go further than how they will survive the next day. Locking up these non-violent drug offenders without serious rehabilitation does not allow them to think outside the box.

By observing some of the neighborhoods that most of these drug offenders come from, it is simple to see how easy it is to get caught up in selling drugs. In low-income urban neighborhoods, crime is a way of life, and many don’t have the positive influences to teach them the dangers of drug dealing, nor the terrible consequences. Drug dealing is a very lucrative career when looking at it from a poor, money-first mentality. It is quick, non-taxed and in high demand.

In the 1980s, many politicians got elected by promising mandatory jail time for drug dealers. As a result, thousands of low-level drug dealers are now spending their college years in prison. At an age where they could be perfecting their marketing skills in a positive direction, they are getting a quick education in criminal mentality. In New York alone, the cost of prison for non-violent drug offenders is about $600 million a year. That money would be better spent on prevention, treatment and education.

Drug dealing is a trap in the case of young, urban America. By locking up these young men and women, money is going into the pockets of rich, private jail owners. These young people are not being given a chance if we keep locking them up and releasing them back into their former environment. They are people in our country who are trapped in situations where they have to make money, but society doesn’t give them a fair chance at real career opportunities. Public school systems are under-funded, and poor urban youth are most often stereotyped as being unintelligent. In poor neighborhoods in America, reality is living day to day, and dreams of becoming middle class are seldom a reality.

Selling illegal narcotics is wrong. There is no question of the harm that it does to a community. But does one ever think of why someone chooses the lifestyle of a drug dealer? Maybe consideration needs to be given to methods of changing the way these young people think about themselves, instead of locking them into cages. These are people with loads of potential to offer society, but they are written off so quickly that the image they have of themselves is the same one held by the greedy, private jail owners.

Teddy Harris is a senior communication studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. He can be reached at [email protected].