Why Some Prison Guards Let Inmates Get High

Prison guards in Switzerland and Denmark are letting inmates freely smoke marijuana in order to keep a calm environment. While it is in neither country’s official policy to support this, prison staff have relaxed their guard to let the prisoners indulge. Two studies related to the effectiveness of this policy highlight uncertainties surrounding its validity. More importantly, however, using pot as a disciplinary tool ignores the greater problem of prisons: what about them causes prisoners to lash out in the first place.

A study performed in Switzerland found marijuana to have a calming effect on prisoners while decreasing prisoners’ perceptions of social isolation and danger. Ultimately, the authors conclude that other means must be used to maintain a safe and calm environment in prisons. The study has no quantitative or medical basis to its findings, and the interviews were conducted in a single prison in Switzerland, limiting it's far-reaching validity.

The second study conducted in Denmark features interviews with prison guards as a means to examine marijuana's role in maintaining a calm prison environment. It is hard to blame the staff for permitting the use of marijuana in these situations as taking away these drugs could make the prisoners restless and more prone to violence like many inmates in the United States

In the United States, drug use in prisons is taken more seriously. K-9 units frequently perform drug checks. Prisoners are often required to take urinalysis tests, and visitors are screened to prevent them from smuggling in drugs.

While it is crucial for prisons to remain controlled environments, the solution is not to provide marijuana to the prisoners. Drugs should only be used for recreational or medicinal purposes. Unless a prisoner has a medical reason, he or she should not be permitted to use it. Marijuana use is symptomatic of the modern prison environment. Drug use is a band-aid solution to the prison system's greater problems.

A real solution to reducing the anxiety and stress caused by prisons is to transition from a punishment-based system to a rehabilitation-based one. The United States should mimic the humanitarian Nordic prison system in which prisoners’ activities are planned for the whole day. Prisoners have the opportunity to play sports and learn, limiting their unstructured time that can result in violence. Prisoners must be afforded opportunities to be human, not be sedated by drugs.

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Saad Asad

Saad Asad is a researcher at a strategic consulting firm in San Diego. He also has previous experience working with city governments and non-profit organizations. Saad holds dual bachelor degrees in Economics and Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.

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