To the contrary, as the Brennan Center for Justice’s Inimai Chettiar points out, they are a source of our economic woes, with $70 billion spent annually on criminal justice, and much more lost in human capital from the 3.2 million people who are incarcerated – the highest rate in the world:
You would be surprised at how many people are locked up for low-level crimes like jumping a subway turnstile, nonviolent crimes, or drug crimes. Half of those in state prisons are locked up for nonviolent crimes; half of federal prisoners committed drug crimes. This zeal to imprison people squanders human capital by removing large sectors of people from society. Many of these individuals do not pose public safety risks, but are nonetheless prevented from contributing to our job force, participating in our democracy, and advancing educationally. Often, their children—and their children’s children—face similar obstacles to participating in our country. As a result, fewer people are able to contribute to our economy, intellectual leadership, and democracy.
Law enforcement officers are increasingly acknowledging that, if anything, decriminalizing drugs like marijuana would improve public safety, by enabling agencies to allocate more resources toward violent crime, and redirecting the money now going to drug cartels back to the local economies for supportive services.