Economic Costs of the Current Criminal Justice System as it Stands

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The only laws that truly exist and govern our lives are the laws of the universe. Gravity, time, energy and physics shape the foundation of our lives without doubt or question. Under eternal law, come subsequent forms of law such as the law of nature, in which exists the social law. Western social law theory originates from the times of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. It was further developed by political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. This provided the foundation for the founding fathers when creating the United States of America. The constitution of the U.S. was intended to protect the people from unnecessary government control. A little over 200 years later, “There are 94,600 out of 197,050 that are in prison because of drug offenses” (Carson). People found in the possession of scheduled narcotics under the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 can serve a hefty prison sentence. Ironically however, marijuana and other drugs these prisoners are incarcerated for have been in use for thousands of years. That being said, the current laws against drugs, specifically the FCS Act of 1970, are not as justifiable as they seem. In addition, the opportunity cost of the current criminal justice system as it stands is much greater than the outcomes. Weighing the costs and benefits of the policy results in an urgent need to change the policy to further promote the general welfare. I picked this topic because I believe there is a serious violation of our fundamental rights and protections as Americans merely for the sake of greater profits for the already existing corporate giants. Not only that, but rarely is anyone readily able to discuss such a topic. 

There are two ways of looking at costs. The first method of calculating cost is referred to as accounting costs. Accounting costs calculate the physical monetary cost of undergoing a specific action. If it costs $30,000 to rent a storefront, $5,000 to buy products for resale and $1,000 miscellaneous expenses, the accounting cost of running the business operation is $36,000 dollars. This is a pretty narrow cost analysis. Another way of calculating cost is analyzing the economic opportunity cost. The economic opportunity cost not only counts the accounting income foregone for undergoing a specific action or decision, but also the value of the next best option that is being given up in order to undergo that specific action or decision. If the business operation is going to require a $36,000 investment and the entrepreneur is giving up a job that pays $50,000 to undergo this business venture, then the economic cost of the business venture is $86,000 (Mankiw). This is a more reliable way of calculating costs because it incorporates the value of things other than just money. Looking into our country’s history, we can see just how important money has played a role.

The United States was founded during a period of European expansion and colonization. Divided up into 13 colonies by Great Brittan, the founding fathers agreed that the government had over gone its boundaries according to social law theory. Troops were being quartered in homes; excessive taxes were levied to further increase the wealth of the king. Having had enough, the revolutionaries declared and then earned their independence through the Revolutionary War of 1776. Important to note is the ironic legality of “controlled substances” at the time. The first law enacted in Jamestown Colony in 1609 was a law that forced farmers to grow hemp. That is because hemp is known to be one of the most durable fibers in the world and can be made into over 5,000 textile and apparel products (Harvey). The founding fathers gained their independence, but the relentless ambition of greed wouldn’t rest there. After failing to reclaim their territory during the War of 1812, Britain and the United Kingdom, especially the wealthy nobles with the most to lose, had to find a way to maintain their control on the masses.

Realizing what our American political system was, a representative democracy, the European business lords responsible for the triangle trade needed to regain their competitive advantage. Since anyone born in the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen and eligible for U.S. government participation, European families poured into the Americas. The sons and grandsons of these business lords would become the inhabitants to the giant business networks created during the time of colonization and expansion. These predominantly white, wealthy business owners were just about the only ones that could participate in U.S. politics. After all, our “democratic” political system has an undemocratic history that maintained only white male property owners could vote. As time went on and policies were liberalized to include blacks and women to vote, it was still an unattainable dream for these African Americans to participate in their own governance. As African Americans and Hispanics became increasingly associated with marijuana and other recreational drugs, the same white business owners and politicians responsible for slavery and the oppression of minorities are the same ones that created the first policy banning the cannabis plant in 1934. After civil rights were granted to African Americans in 1964, these same politicians responded with “The War on Drugs”.

Drug use has been prevalent since the dawn of human time. The consumption of an apple can be considered drug use. Also, consuming the chemicals in McDonalds, MSG in Chinese food, is just as much of drug use as consuming marijuana or a dosage of LSD. In his book Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age, author Richard Rudgley identifies the use of marijuana for its psychoactive properties as early as 3,000 BC evidenced by ancient charred remains of cannabis in a Mongolian settlement (Rudgley). There have been many other drugs used throughout the course of history, some good and others bad. Marijuana may be considered harmless while opium may be considered dangerous. It can also be said that the chemicals used by giant food corporations like Monsanto, Kraft Foods and Tyson Foods are very dangerous. MSG is a chemical known to turn off the component in your brain that says, “I have had enough”. This pushes the consumer to eat more and more of the unhealthy product. It is ironic how these dangerous chemicals are legal, and the use of other, natural growing drugs, are illegal. And looking back at the short 43-year formal prohibition on drugs, it becomes clear as to why.

With the elimination of slavery and segregation, there was no source of exploitive labor for the wealthy capitalists gaining wealth through international trade. Also, the liberalizing effects of in-taking psychoactive drugs was responsible for the African Americans standing up for their rights. In addition, the wide applicability of hemp was costing the manufacturers and producers of another products profit. Thus, in an effort to maintain profit and continue the oppression of people, drugs were made illegal. To solidify and justify their political action, the media was brainwashed by government propaganda about the dangers of natural growing drugs like marijuana, making it very difficult for anyone to even contest such a widespread cultural belief. As a result, over 94,000 people are locked up for the possession or trading of these products known as drugs while rich, corporate giants make billions of dollars feeding our society poison such as artificial sweeteners and flavors in all of our foods.

The cost of our criminal justice system the way it currently stands is tremendous. One of the greatest costs to having our criminal justice system the way it stands is the cost of our fundamental freedoms stated in the constitution, namely being the use of the death penalty. Our protections in the constitution are violated when the government enacts an unjustifiable policy in order to further suppress a group of people or the population as a whole (Clarkson). Another tremendous cost is the potential opportunity of every single person that has been caught with possessing or trafficking drugs. An intriguing statistic is quoted from an article in The Atlantic by Brian Resnick stating, “One year at Princeton University: $37,000. One year at New Jersey State prison: $44,000.” With this incredible statistic incorporated with over 94,000 people in prison because of drug possession, it makes the individual wonder what each of those prisoners would be capable of had they attended a school like Princeton instead of incarceration. The economic cost of our criminal justice system the way it stands is the foregone opportunity of each of these individuals had they been provided the opportunity to attend college. In addition to the economic costs from drug prohibition that cost us our freedom and the potential of thousands of people are the accounting costs of what could be made from the production of certain drugs. The widespread applicability of hemp is a great example of how various products can be made cheaply and marketed around the world to help restore the American economy. But as long as big business and bank CEO’s are making million dollar bonuses off of the giant recession of the U.S. economy, there will never be change.

In conclusion, the economic costs of the criminal justice system as it stands are tremendously greater than the benefits. Our criminal justice system intended to protect the safety and welfare of the population has turned into one that incarcerates people for possessing molecules and chemicals, some of which are found in nature. Meanwhile, the big business and corporate giants participating in government have their chemicals put in foods and fed to the population at large. The costs of such a system are our fundamental rights and freedoms, the foregone opportunity of each prisoner had they been afforded the opportunity to attend college and the physical foregone monetary profits from producing crops like cannabis to use for their full advantage. Only through awareness can our society begin repairing the damage from the evil that has taken place.

Works Cited

Carson, Ann, and William Sabol. "Prisons & Drug Offenders | Drug War Facts." Welcome | Drug War Facts. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Clarkson, Kenneth W., Roger LeRoy Miller, and Frank B. Cross. Business law: text and cases: legal, ethical, global, and corporate environment. 12th ed. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

Mankiw, N. Gregory. Principles of economics. 6th ed. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

Rudgley, Richard. The lost civilizations of the Stone Age. New York, NY: Free Press, 1999. Print.

The Union. Dir. Brett Harvey. Perf. Adam Scorgie. Phase 4 Films, 2009. Film.