The War on Drugs:

Arrests Burdening Local Criminal Justice Systems

GGD-91-40: Published: Apr 3, 1991. Publicly Released: May 10, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined eight cities considered to have a significant increase in drug and drug-related crimes between 1980 and 1989, focusing on the: (1) efforts taken to address drug crime problems; (2) limitations of the local criminal justice systems; and (3) options for government policy to address the situation.

GAO found that: (1) in the 8 cities, selected drug and drug-related offenses increased 193 percent for the 10-year period ending in 1989; (2) Los Angeles had the largest number of arrests, but Atlanta had the highest per capita rate; (3) increased arrests for drug offenses added a substantial burden to already badly strained criminal justice systems, correctional facilities, probation and parole offices, and substance abuse treatment centers; (4) all eight cities took various actions to cope with the overcrowding, such as increasing the use of plea-bargaining, parole, and probation, early release programs to reduce overcrowded jails and prisons, downgrading certain offenses to misdemeanors or prosecuting for lesser charges, constructing new prisons and jails, and providing alternatives to imprisonment; and (5) news articles and reports indicated that other cities were using the same methods to deal with crowded criminal justice systems. GAO believes that federal, state, and local responses to the country's drug problems must reflect a balanced and integrated approach that addresses all aspects of the criminal justice system.

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