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DRUG POLICY



Sentencing policies brought about by the "war on drugs" resulted in a dramatic growth in incarceration for drug offenses. At the Federal level, prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge comprise half of the prison population, while the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980. Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.

The Sentencing Project works actively to reform the federal mandatory penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses to make them more equitable and fair. To become involved visit our crack reform page.

Number of People in Prisons and Jails for Drug Offenses, 1980 and 2011

Drug Policy News
November 19, 2014
State Advocacy Update: 2014 Midterm Analysis and More

2014 Midterm Analysis

Helpful Campaign Strategies

Reducing Prison Population

Other News


November 17, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
New Publication: Incorporating Racial Equity into Criminal Justice Reform

There are few areas of American society where racial disparities are as profound and as troubling as in the criminal justice system. Our newest report, Incorporating Racial Equity into Criminal Justice Reform, provides an overview of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and a framework for developing and implementing remedies for these disparities.


November 14, 2014 (The Daily Journal)
Support grows to end excessive punishment

The success of California’s Proposition 47 — the ballot initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and certain property crimes — may mark a new day for criminal justice reform. With a 58 percent victory margin, voters rejected some of the excesses of the “tough on crime” era. Prop. 47 signaled, according to the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, that voters are no longer “in the same fearful, punishing mood as when they passed three-strikes and other harsh initiatives.” But as encouraging as this reform is, California must take even bolder steps to tackle its high rate of incarceration.

Prop. 47’s key provision established higher monetary thresholds at which five property crimes become “wobblers” — offenses that prosecutors can charge as either felonies or misdemeanors. At values below $950, theft, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, and forging or writing bad checks will now be charged as misdemeanors for most people. In addition, possession of illegal drugs for personal use has also been reclassified to a misdemeanor.


Author: Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D.
November 7, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Hot Off the Presses: The Sentencing Project's 2014 Newsletter

Our 2014 Newsletter is out! Read it to find out what we’ve been up to in the last year, including:

  • How three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – reduced their prison populations in the range of 25% and saw their crime rates generally decline even faster than the national average
  • Updates on federal sentencing reform, including the United States Sentencing Commission’s decision to apply their reduced sentencing guidelines retroactively to 46,000 people currently serving time for drug offenses
  • How state advocates from across the country gained insight and support in strategizing for racial impact statements from The Sentencing Project during our State Advocacy Convening

…and much more!


November 5, 2014
California Voters Pass Proposition 47 Sentencing Reform

California voters have approved Proposition 47, a ballot measure that will reclassify six low-level property and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, theft, and check fraud under $950, as well as personal use of most illegal drugs. State savings resulting from the measure are estimated to be at least $150 million a year and will be used to support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to expand alternatives to incarceration.