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Who is in federal prison for drug-related offenses?


The inequities of the U.S. prison system have increasing become a subject of discussion among lawmakers and other power-players in Washington, D.C. -- particularly when it comes to the number of people in federal and state prisons for drug crimes. The so-called "War on Drugs" is in part responsible for increasing the number of people in federal prisons by almost 800 percent between 1980 and 2012.

The Department of Justice has been working to give judges more discretion in sentencing convicted drug offenders. Meanwhile, members of Congress, in some rare bipartisan cooperation, have set their sights on doing away with some mandatory minimum sentences that have contributed to the burgeoning number of inmates in federal prisons.

A study by the Urban Institute provides insight into exactly who is in our federal prisons for drug-related crimes and, specifically, what drugs were involved. The study was based on 1994 to 2012 data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission and 2012 data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The number of people in federal prisons has been dropping and is expected to continue to. However, these numbers are still telling.

According to the research, more than half (93,000) of the almost 200,000 people in federal prisons are there for drug-related offenses. Nearly all of those involve trafficking. The drug involved in over half of these crimes was cocaine (crack and powder). The next most common drug was methamphetamines, followed by marijuana.

The vast majority of those in federal prison for drug offenses are men. Over three quarters are non-white. Nearly one quarter aren't U.S. citizens.

When the type of drug involved in the crime is looked at by demographic group, the differences are also significant. Some 88 percent of African-Americans were locked up for crack cocaine offenses. Whites were predominantly convicted for crimes involving methamphetamines, MDMA and prescription drugs. Interestingly, over a third of those in federal prison for drug offenses had not been in prison before and had "minimal criminal history."

Despite the efforts being made to minimize the number of people in our prisons for drug crimes, particularly for non-violent offenders, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors take these crimes seriously -- particularly when it comes to sale and trafficking. The ramifications of a conviction can be severe. Connecticut criminal defense attorneys can help ensure that your rights are protected and provide guidance as you go through the judicial system.

Source: Time, "A Look At Who Is Behind Bars for Drug Crimes," Maya Rhodan, accessed March 28, 2016