Inmates Serving Drug Sentences Are Dangerous! Yea, Right!

You want to see the demographics of the typical inmate serving a federal drug sentence, look no more. This will illustrate how your hard earned tax dollars are being (mis)spent. At the end of the FY 2014, individuals serving drug sentences accounted for 49% of the total federal prison population. 45% of the 95,305 individuals in federal prison for drug offenses are in the lowest two criminal history categories, indicating minimal prior convictions and a low risk of recidivism. In fact, 26% have no prior criminal history. Further, over three-quarters of inmates serving drug sentences have no serious history of violence while more than half have no violent history. Does this make you feel safter that we’re spending 26K per year, per drug inmate, to warehouse them.

Though recent policy changes have helped reverse upward trends in population size, the Urban Institute’s Federal Prison Population Forecaster shows that continuing population declines will require significantly shorter lengths of stay for drug offenses. Congressional leaders are considering legislative action that would reduce some mandatory minimum penalties and grant judges greater discretion to sentence individuals to shorter prison stays for drug offenses. While the exact impact of these bills is unknown, lasting reductions in the size of the federal prison population will only come from big cuts in lengths of stay for drug offenses. The Task Force will be considering such reforms as part of its deliberations and expects to build on the efforts under way in Congress.