A Federal law passed in 1986 allowed law enforcement agencies to seize drug money, and use it to supplement their budgets. Grabbing cash connected to drugs meant that police departments could buy more tools and training. Like the fee-for-service model in medicine, that pays doctors for performing procedures, not for making people healthier, the “forfeiture laws” effectively pay the police departments for making busts - not for reducing the drug trade.
In fact, if the war on drugs was ever won, it would be a financial disaster for law enforcement. There’s so much dirty money funding law enforcement agencies that now, according to NPR, some police departments have become “addicted to drug money”.
The second significant institutional incentive is of more recent origin, though it too has its beginnings in the Reagan era - the development of for-profit prison companies and their vast lobbying and political apparatus.
- Prisoners now manufacture and assemble products for Microsoft, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing, as well as body armor for soldiers and handcuff cases for law enforcement officers.
- In 2007, taxpayers spent 74 billion on prisons, with the largest percentage increase of prisoners going to for-profit prison companies.