GiveWell is currently investigating criminal justice reform as an area of potentially effective giving. I just wanted to raise one particular issue for discussion and find out whether anyone else has investigated it.

The War on Drugs continues despite a tide of public sentiment slowly rising against it. Part of the reason is potentially special interest groups who stand to lose a lot of money if things change. This includes the Prison Guard Union and Private Prison Corporations who fight to keep tough drug sentencing on the books, as well as Police Unions who rely on the WoD for a large part of their budget. The DEA in particular has been incentivized by its ability to seize large amounts of cash without due process.

There is already some momentum generated by the John Oliver piece on this subject. The public is easily able to understand the concept of a perverse incentive in this situation because it is so transparent. Police agencies also might find it hard to mount resistance against changing this, but I don't know the shape of current efforts here. 

Why this might be of interest to EAs:

Normally these sorts of freedom-for-first-worlders ideas would not be very interesting from an EA perspective. I think this is potentially different because of the downstream effects. Incentives to continue the WoD lessons significantly -> Decriminalization -> Demand side collapse for the support network for drug cartels whom murder many people in Latin America and seriously undermine the QoL for many others.

Yes, the links in this chain are some pretty big jumps and might not happen. But if they are possible AND changing these incentives turn out to be relatively cheap it could be worth it.

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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:34 AM

The John Oliver piece is a great lesson in how to talk about a serious issue in a compelling and likeable way!