NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 77, Number 6

December 2002

Casualties of War: Criminal Drug Law Enforcement and Its Special Costs for the Poor

Keith Donoghue

Over the last three decades, different criticisms have emerged in response to the “war on drugs.” One strain of argument relies on a pragmatic analysis of the costs and benefits to society as a whole of using criminal sanctions. Although the costs associated with drug-related harms and drug enforcement disproportionately burden poor communities, their relationship with poverty has attracted little systematic analysis. In this Note, Keith Donoghue focuses on the particular costs and benefits of the drug war for the poor as a class. Relying on social-scientific theories of drug abuse and criminal law enforcement, he analyzes the effects of the two major drug-enforcement strategies: “top-down,” which seeks to intercept the leaders of drug operations, and “bottom-up,” whose objective is to apprehend retail purchasers of drugs. Donoghue argues that these strategies have imposed unique injuries on the poor, such as more violent crime in poor communities and greater drug abuse among the poor. He concludes that the impact of drug prohibition on the poor is more multifaceted than commonly has been recognized.