Prisoners Of War: 2.4 Million and Counting


Artists’ Statement

By Maya Buffett Davis, Ashmita Phnuyal, Qadir Muhammad, Jonah Barton

The War on Drugs is a campaign started by President Richard Nixon in 1971 that focused on the restriction of drugs, drug intervention in the military, harsher drug laws, and eradicating the illegal drug trade. In the late 1960s, drugs became very popular, especially among young people. Politicians pinpointed this increase in drug use as the catalyst for increased rebellion, protests and crime rates. Consequentially, Nixon and eventually Reagan took drastic measures to try to combat drug use in the United States. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the Three Strikes rule, and many other laws restricting drug use were established. The government also created the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, The Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. With this severe crackdown on drug use, the number of Americans incarcerated increased from 200,000 in 1970 to 2.4 million in 2014. This mass incarceration has greatly influenced American society. More specifically, the War on Drugs has reshaped the economy, orbited around every major political election, and created a drastic racial disparity in American prisons.

 This project explores some of the unique viewpoints on the intention and consequences of this war on drugs in America. Some of these narratives include:

  • The War on Drugs is a political scheme: The War On Drugs is more of a political issue rather than a measure to decrease drug trade in America. Many political historians agree that after Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” most succeeding presidential candidates have used political platforms that focus on restrictive drug laws in order to gain popularity.
  • The War on Drugs is racist: the War On Drugs is a method of social control that systematically restricts and oppresses minorities. According to the National Association for the of Colored People, “African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense. African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).”
  • The War on Drugs is an economic disaster: the War On Drugs is a tremendous economic expenditure and not an effective method of decreasing drug use in the United States. The number of Americans incarcerated in 2012 in federal, state and local prisons and jails was 2,228,400 or 1 in every 108 adults,  which is the highest incarceration rate in the world. It costs between 20,000 to 40,000 dollars to house one inmate for one year.

Annotated works cited for this project can be found here.


12 thoughts on “Prisoners Of War: 2.4 Million and Counting

  1. The War on Drugs narrative is really interesting. Reading Michelle Alexander’s work on the issues, and then seeing them here just shows how there is still racism in the world. I learned that the war on drugs is oppresses minorities, and is just another way to make minorities look bad.


  2. Coming from someone who had no prior knowledge about the war on drugs I feel like I can teach it to a class. The narratives and the poster are really loaded and packed with information.


  3. the editing on your poster is really smoothly done, and the matching skin tones for the face and hands is pretty believable. i didn’t get the poster’s title initially but now it kind of makes sense


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