Narconomics

Narconomics

Tom Wainwright

Penal reformers have long claimed that “prison doesn’t work.” This is only partly true: for drug cartels, prison works brilliantly. Jails provide a place to hire and train new members of staff, something that is normally extremely difficult for criminal organizations to do because of the constraints imposed by the illegality of their business. From kingpins such as Carlos Lehder to vulnerable young Dominicans looking for protection and employment, thousands of people every year are guided into a career in crime by a stint behind bars. How misguided it was to send low-level offenders to these universities of crime was apparent even to Richard Nixon, the first US president to declare a “war” on drugs. “To take somebody that’s smoked some of this stuff [cannabis], put him into a jail with a bunch of hardened criminals . . . that’s absurd. . . . There must be different ways than jail,” he said in a private conversation recorded in the Oval Office in 1971.10

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