Jason Zeidenberg, Justice Policy Institute at 202- 737-7270 or Vincent Schiraldi, Justice Policy Institute at 202-737-7270
| Nearly one in four prisoners behind bars in America is incarcerated for a drug offense according to a new study scheduled to be released next week. The report by the Justice Policy Institute found that there are almost as many inmates imprisoned for drug offenses today (458,131) as the entire US prisoner population of 1980 (474,368). The report, entitled Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States found that, since 1980, the number of persons imprisoned for drug offenses has increased 11-fold while the number of violent offenders entering state prisons has doubled and the number of nonviolent prisoners has tripled. It will cost states, counties, and the federal government over $9 billion to imprison 458,131 drug offenders this year. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan), used the occasion of the report’s release to announce legislation that would provide treatment in lieu of incarceration for non-violent drug users, supporting with federal dollars reform efforts like those proposed in New York and California.
“The casualties from this nation’s drug war have continued to mount, with no end in sight,” stated Mr. Conyers. The federal government must support alternatives to wholesale incarceration that stress treatment for drug addicted offenders. Only by breaking the cycle of abuse, trafficking and incarceration can we find a way out of this nightmare.”
“America does indeed have a drug problem,” stated JPI Director and report co-author Vincent Schiraldi. “And that problem is that we’ve focused on imprisonment as the near-exclusive solution to substance abuse, while giving short shrift to treatment and prevention.”
Among the report’s other key findings:
“The war on drugs has never been a war on drugs per se. It has always been a war on people,” stated report co-author Barry Holman. “As the data show, that war has increasingly become a war against African Americans.” The report comes at a time when America’s drug policies are under increased criticism, and when policy alternatives have arisen around the country. For example:
Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States is available at the JPI Website.
The Justice Policy Institute is a research and public policy organization in Washington, DC. JPI is a project of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. This research was funded by a generous grant from the Open Society Institute.