The Nation’s Investments in Data and Research: Focus on Enforcement

As the committee went about its work, it discovered that the research available to evaluate different instruments of drug control policy varies as dramatically in magnitude as in mode. We found the central problem to be a serious lack of investment in programs of data collection and empirical research that would enable evaluation of the nation’s investment in drug law enforcement.

Existing programs of data and research on drug treatment and prevention receive more resources and are therefore further developed. The committee does make recommendations whose implementation should further strengthen the nation’s understanding of treatment and prevention, but these recommendations are mainly meant to improve programs of data and research that are already in place. It is the committee’s view that to inform enforcement policy will require initiation of entirely new programs, as well as development of appropriate organizational infrastructure to support them.

Between 1981 and 1999 the nation’s expenditures on enforcement increased more than tenfold. The escalation in domestic enforcement is manifest in an inventory of criminal justice processing facts: in 1998, 1.6 million people were arrested for drug offenses, 3 times as many as in 1980, and 289,000 drug offenders were incarcerated in state prisons, 12 times as many as in 1980 (23,900). The benefits and costs of current law enforcement policy and the possibility of alternative strategies continue to be the subject of heated public debate. Yet, because of a lack of investment in data and research, the committee has reluctantly concluded that the nation is in no better position to evaluate the effectiveness of enforcement now than it was 20 years ago, when the recent intensification of enforcement began.

Collection of the data and performance of the research needed to inform enforcement policy will require new resources. The committee has not attempted to determine the specific costs of the initiatives recommended in this report. To explain the absence of cost estimates, it may suffice to observe that the task of producing them lay beyond the charge to the committee. However, the more basic reason why the committee does not provide cost estimates is that any such estimates would be too speculative to be useful. Our recommendations for new data and research to inform enforcement policy call for the nation to begin the process of developing a coherent body of knowledge. The proper time to produce specific cost estimates will be when that process is under way.

What the committee can say is that we view the recommended enhancements of data and research as neither impossible to accomplish nor

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