Cory Booker: The War on Drugs has failed

Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker is making news again — this time for commentary regarding the War on Drugs. Via Huffington Post:

Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker took to Reddit Sunday to criticize the war on drugs, saying it was ineffective and “represents big overgrown government at its worst.”

“The so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence,” the Democrat wrote during the Reddit “ask me anything” chat. “We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential.”


Over at Reddit, Booker wrote the following:

Blacks make up less than 15% of our New Jersey’s population but make up more than 60% of our prison population. I can’t accept that facts like this one do anything but demonstrate the historic and current biases in our criminal justice system…People should not see these facts and this discussion as an indictment of any one race, sector, or occupation, it should be seen as a call to all of us to do the difficult things to make a change because this isn’t a “black” problem this is an American problem.

The so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence. We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential. I see the BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars being poured into the criminal justice system here in New Jersey and it represents big overgrown government at its worst. We should be investing dollars in programs and strategies that work not just to lower crime but work to empower lives.

It anguishes me how we seem to be so content with national and state recidivism rates of around 60% and how a staggering number of young black men are involved in the criminal justice system.

My police in Newark are involved in an almost ridiculous game of arresting the same people over and over again and when you talk to these men they have little belief that there is help or hope for them to break out of this cycle.

And it is a dangerous world for people caught up in the drug trade for it is so associated with violence. Data from Rutgers University is chilling: Over 80% of Newark’s murder VICTIMS have been arrested before an average of 10 times.


There are few public policy areas where Democrats are right, but the legalization of marijuana is one of them. Last month I made a case for why social conservatives should consider supporting the legalization of marijuana, and Booker’s data above backs a lot of what I wrote about. The editors of National Review are also in agreement with Booker on both marijuana legalization and the failure of the War on Drugs.

Booker doesn’t just complain, however. He also offers solutions for those people currently on drugs, who have been arrested, and otherwise have been impacted by both their own poor life decisions and the War on Drugs:

  1. Reentry. We developed the state’s first office of reentry, raised philanthropy and other grant dollars to support it and have some impressive data. Our office has connected well over 1,000 men and women with work and a number of our programs are producing some great results. One I will mention here is our Fatherhood program. The recidivism rate for this program has dropped among participants from over 60% for nonparticipants to 7% for participants…Instead of condemning men for not being good fathers and preaching to them about how they should take care of their kids, this program looks to empower them in their fatherhood mission. The men are partnered with mentor dads, there are parenting classes, group activities with their kids and a partnership is created with the mother of the children. The men are helped with finding jobs and even with suits and more for interviews and work. All of this is so much cheaper than continued incarceration and it empowers participants (mostly black and latino) breaking the cycle of imprisonment…
  2. Court reform . . . I discussed this in another answer but by having youth courts, veterans courts, drug courts and more, we are finding that we can empower people to stay out of jail and turn their lives around as opposed to get chewed up in the system. Court innovation is critical and Newark is leading the way in New Jersey thanks to great partners like The Center For Court Innovation in NYC.
  3. Jobs. It is so critical that we find ways to rapidly attach people to work when they come out of prison even if they are minimum wage transition jobs. Newark has done a lot in this area. I’m particularly proud of our Clean and Green program taking men and women right from returning from prison and giving them jobs helping to clean and green our city.
  4. Treatment. This is critical. Our state is just recently stepping up to expand treatment and make it a mandatory alternative to incarceration. In Newark we have some great treatment options but they too need more funding. Treatment saves taxpayer dollars, empowers individuals, stops recidivism, heals families and helps us all.
  5. Legal Help. Our nation’s legal service and advocacy organizations are starving and so many people are getting chewed up by the criminal justice system just because they are poor and lack legal support. Newark New Jersey started our nations first ever pro bono legal service practice to support people coming home from prison. You would be amazed at the number of people who come out of prison, want to get a job and try to do the right thing but then their lives are entangled by countless legal problems and barriers that could be overcome with with some administrative legal support…
  6. There is much more I can list in terms of things happening in Newark that point to solutions…But for my final point…So much of this problem could be solved by strong education systems and other systems of support for our children before they get in trouble. So let me offer this as a final action item to heal our nation, end many insidious racial divisions and exalt our country’s highest ideals. Mentoring. It takes 4 hours a month to mentor a child, the amount of time most watch TV in a day. There are hundreds of kids in Newark on waiting lists for a mentor: a positive adult in their lives who cares. Mentoring has demonstrated a profound ability to dramatically lower incarceration for youth and even lower early unsafe sex practices. And it has shown to boost youth outcomes from self-esteem to dramatically increasing school performance. EVERYONE who is qualified should be mentoring a child who is not their own OR encouraging others to do so OR supporting mentoring organizations. If every so-called “at risk” kid in Newark had a mentor we could dramatically end future crime in our city.

Now, I’m just a lowly blogger with more opinions than he ought to voice, but even if Booker’s solutions aren’t right for every community they make a lot of sense. Rather than incentivize failure, encourage success. Preventive measures through mentoring. The value of employment, local solutions and citizen involvement. These are conservative principles to help improve society, and Booker seems to believe they are working.

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