Transforming Drug Laws in the United States: From Retributive to Restorative Justice


Violence of the System: Who is Affected Most

“See, it looks like the safest street in the city, but it’s actually the most dangerous if you happen to be smoking a joint.”
-Randy Credico

According to Johan Galtung, structural violence consists economic, political and social structures, institutions and processes that systematically violate rights and lower the material quality of life of particular groups of people. It may not be violence in the direct, tangible sense, but it is violence none the less. The current drug system in the United States of America are a form of structural violence, systematically keeping a variety of groups oppressed through the law. The law (and law enforcers) specifically target African-Americans and other minorities, women, and even students.


* African-Americans are only 15% of country’s drug users. However, they represent 37% of those arrested due to drug violations and 74% of those who ultimately go to prison on drug charges.
* African-Americans are the biggest victims of the unjust crack cocaine penalties. Though a 2/3 of the United States' crack users are either Hispanic or white,  80% of people sentenced for crack are black while only 7.8 % are white.

Jayne Bigelsen, former Director of Legislative Affairs for the New York City Bar Association

Women, Children & Families

*Women have suffered from the increased mandatory sentences and drug laws.
*There are now 8 times more women incarcerated than there were in 1980.
*Between 1986 and 1999, the amount of women in jail for drug-related crimes increased by 888%, a number that far outweighs the potential increase in drug use by women.
*The women involved are usually users or small level dealers, rarely part of the larger drug cartels. Yet, they are suffering just as much as if they were.
*There are currently over one million women in jail today.
*The increased incarceration of women leaves many children motherless. If they were not arrested, and simply given the chance to get clean, they would be more likely to one day return to their children.


*In 1998, the Aid Elimination Provision was added to the Higher Education Act. This provision adds a question to the FAFSA form (the standard financial aid form for higher education) about whether the student had been convicted of a drug crime. If they answer yes, they are often denied financial aid.
*Thus, students with a past are left without options for their future. This is another example of class and race discrimination. While wealthier, often white, drug offenders can afford to go to college with or without the financial aid, the potentially only one-time drug offenders from poorer areas will be stuck without options. They are victims of a violent and repressive drug law system.

Images in the Media that Help Reinforce These Disparities