New Justice Department Report: 1 in 31 Americans in Prison, Jail, on Parole or Probation

Press Release December 10, 2008
Media Contact

Reena Szczepanski at (505) 983 3277

A government report released today by the U.S. Department of Justice found that 1 in 31 Americans were in prison or jail or on parole or probation last year. According to the report, New Mexico’s prison population under state or federal jurisdiction has grown 21 percent since 2000. Although the number of New Mexico prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction decreased in 2007 by 2.6 percent, on average it has grown 3.7 percent every year since 2000. New Mexico ranked 25th in the measure of change in imprisonment rates from 2000-2007.

“Half of states are doing better than we are in bringing down their imprisonment rates. We can do better,” said Reena Szczepanski, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, “And a first step is to address substance abuse as a public health issue, not as a criminal justice matter. We can be smart on crime without compromising public safety.”

The report found differences in male and female populations. The number of male prisoners under state or federal correctional authority has grown 22 percent since 2000, but the women’s population has only grown 13 percent during the same time period. In 2007, the number of female prisoners in New Mexico under state or federal correctional authority decreased by 13.6 percent. The report also found that 28.7 percent of women prisoners nationally were incarcerated for drug offenses, compared to 18.9 percent of men.

“Given that women are seriously impacted by substance abuse and are more likely to be behind bars for a drug offense than men, we must take a hard look at the substance abuse services we are offering for women,” said Szczepanski.

Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico has supported proposals for several years for a buprenorphine pilot project at the women’s prison in Grants, a medication that treats addiction to heroin and other opiates. “We must make treatments like buprenorphine available in prison, and expand access in the community. We can’t afford to put this off any longer,” Szczepanski added.

Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico also will be backing a proposal to give judges discretion to divert certain nonviolent, low level offenders into substance abuse treatment instead of the criminal justice system. Treatment instead of incarceration for people with drug possession offenses or drug-related probation and parole violations will save New Mexico’s taxpayers up to $18,335,680 each year. In addition to saving money, this policy provides a more effective tool to address substance abuse in our communities. New Mexico currently spends over $22 million each year to deal with drug possession offenders and drug-related probation and parole violators. Offering treatment to these offenders would cost only $3.9 million.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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