War on drugs fostered mass incarceration

By Len Lazarick


Incarceration Generation book coverNeill Franklin has come a long way since his years as an undercover narc for the Maryland State Police then head of training for the Baltimore City Police Department.

He now heads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in Silver Spring, an enemy of the war on drugs he fought so long.

Greg Carpenter has come a long way since the 20 years he spent in prison in Maryland, California and Georgia. For the last 15 years in Baltimore he’s been working to help prisoners re-enter society and last year served on the Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Re-Entry Task Force.

What brought the two men together Wednesday night in a downtown Baltimore office building was the launch of a new book, “Incarceration Generation,” in which each man authored a short essay in his area of expertise.

Prison population grew seven-fold in 40 years

Forty years ago, 204,211 people were held by U.S. prison authorities; in 2011, there were 1.6 million, a 780% increase while the U.S. population as a whole had grown by about 50%.

Produced by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, “Incarceration Generation” documents how, why and to whom that happened. It gathers commentary from 19 researchers, advocates and people who have personally experienced the system.

Neill Franklin as a Baltimore police major

Neill Franklin as a Baltimore police major

Through their essays, this book highlights the different populations impacted by mass incarceration, as well as the different aspects of practice and procedures that propel these populations into the justice system.

At the offices of the Open Society Institute, Franklin and Carpenter dished their slice of the picture.

Drug war the linchpin

“The drug war is the linchpin,” Franklin said. In the book he writes, “I believe that if we end today’s prohibition, our neighborhoods would be considerably safer and police could truly become one with the community.”

Franklin read the passage he quotes in the book written by August Vollmer, a former police chief in Berkeley, Calif., and former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, after the end of Prohibition in 1936.

“Stringent laws, vigorous prosecution, and imprisonment of addicts and peddlers have proved not only useless and enormously expensive as means of correcting this evil, but they are unjustifiably and unbelievably cruel in their application to the unfortunate drug victims. Repression has driven this vice underground and produced the narcotic smugglers and supply agents, who have grown wealthy out of this evil practice and who, by devious methods, have stimulated traffic in drugs.

“Finally, and not the least of the evils associated with repression, the helpless addict has been forced to resort to crime in order to get money for the drug which is absolutely indispensable for his comfortable existence.”

From Carpenter’s perspective, “Society builds prisons to put us away and keep us locked up. It seemed like society did not expect us to ever return to our communities. There were no programs or any real assistance in place to facilitate this type of transition.”

Changing attitudes and public policy

The 15-year-old Justice Policy Institute hopes the new book will help change the dialogue about prison and those sent there. “How can we effectively challenge the system?” asked the institute’s incoming director, Marc Schindler. He began his long involvement with justice issues just a block away as a public defender in Baltimore juvenile court after his graduation from the University of Maryland Law School up the street.

Leigh Maddox, new deputy director of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Services and a former state police officer, said the gay rights movement as its transformed attitudes over the past decade could serve as a model for changing public attitudes and policy about incarceration. She also suggested Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as offering guidance.

Franklin said, “I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t support the end of prohibition. They just don’t know it yet.”

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Jan

    Unbelievable approach to “solving” the drug problem — just ignore the problem and it will disappear. Fuzzy-headed liberals like you are at the root of the problem — turning your head away when the problem demands more stringent action. And, worse, taking adverse action to prevent anything being done. Drugs are not healthy, period. They are a destructive element to any society. Watch the National Geographic special report currently on cable — get your eyes open!!

    • Fairuse

      “just ignore the problem and it will disappear”

      Advocates of decriminalization or an outright legal REGULATED market are far from ignoring the problem. Barreling full steam ahead with practices that have been unequivocally been show at best ineffective and at worst a total failure IS ignoring the problem.
      More stringent action? More stringent than locking up a higher percent of it’s population than ANY other country on the planet?
      You are thankfully in the ever shrinking minority. Maybe not in your little corner of the echo chamber but nationally and worldwide.

  2. dag

    Ron Paul spoke with CNN railing
    against the U.S. war on drugs.

    “This war on drugs has been a detriment to personal liberty and it’s
    been a real abuse of liberty,” Paul said. “Our prisons are full with
    people who have used drugs who should be treated as patients — and they’re
    non-violent. Someday we’re gonna awake and find out that the prohibition we are
    following right now with drugs is no more successful, maybe a lot less
    successful, than the prohibition of alcohol was in the ’20s.”

  3. malcolmkyle

    Prohibitionism is intensely, rabidly, frantically, frenetically, hysterically anti-truth, anti-freedom, anti-public-health, anti-public-safety and anti-economy.

    An important feature of prohibitionism—which it closely shares with fascism—is totalitarianism. That means a police-state apparatus—widespread surveillance, arbitrary imprisonment or even murder of political opponents, mass-incarceration, torture, etc.

    Like despicable, playground bullies, prohibitionists are vicious one moment, then full of self-pity the next. They whine and whinge like lying, spoiled brats, claiming they just want to “save the little children,” but the moment they feel it safe to do so, they use brute force and savage brutality against those they claim to be defending.

    Prohibitionists actually believe they can transcend human nature and produce a better world. They allow only one doctrine, an impossible-to-obtain drug-free world. All forms of dissent, be they common-sense, scientific, constitutional or democratic, are simply ignored, and their proponents vehemently persecuted.

    During alcohol prohibition, from 1919 to 1933, all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. While battling over turf, young men died on inner-city streets. Corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary went clean off the scale. A fortune was wasted on enforcement that could have been far more wisely allocated. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs, billions in taxes were lost. Finally, in 1929, the economy collapsed.

    Does that sound familiar?

    • abby_adams

      Yet Prohibition continued on until 1933. What you miss is the reaction of citizens who demanded heavy punishment for these crimes after WWI & in the 1980’s. During prohibition profits not only benefitted the crime bosses but a large # of their political pals as well. Ditto for the drug trade. So the solution is making all drugs legal thereby eliminating the legal system with its costs & everything will be just great? Alcohol is a legal product yet we still have alcoholics & those who over imbibe causing havoc on the roads. Just making a product legal doesn’t solve the problem. We’ve become a self medicating society that cannot or will not deal with life’s problems without resorting to “living through chemistry”. Manditory sentencing & the prison profit motive have a lot to do with our high incarceration rates.

  4. Spike Bradford

    Mr Franklin’s comments at the Incarceration Generation event were moving, but what stuck with me most was his statement that the International Association of the Chiefs of Police won’t let his organization, LEAP, even speak at their conference. That kind of stonewalling is a big barrier to overcome in shifting law enforcement attitudes away from prohibition.

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