Fact Sheets
Featured Video
  • National Press Club Forum: A 25-Year Vision for Criminal Justice Reform
  • Unlocking Justice: Alternatives to Prison
State Contacts

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
April 17, 2014 (Huffington Post)
Christian Leaders Call For Ending Drug War, Mass Incarceration

As the Easter holiday approaches, several Christian leaders called for the U.S. to end the war on drugs and mass incarceration of offenders. The faith leaders said they hoped the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ inspires the resurrection of people and communities devastated by what they said was failed U.S. drug policy.

"The policies of this failed war on drugs -- which in a reality, is a war on people who happen to be poor, primarily black and brown -- is a stain on the image of this society," said the Rev. John E. Jackson, senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, Ind., and leader of the social justice organization Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, on a conference call Wednesday organized by the Drug Policy Alliance. "Instead of trying to help individuals heal and become whole and have the help they need, people are being stigmatized for profit in the privatized prison system in this country.

The United States incarcerates more of its population than any country in the world. That's largely because of harsh sentences for certain drug-related crimes. There are roughly 25,000 drug-related convictions in federal courts each year and, according to The Associated Press, 45 percent of those are for lower-level offenses. State and local courts handle the vast majority of drug crimes.


April 17, 2014 (SparkAction.org)
A Look at the Latest Data on Race and Juvenile Justice

Josh Rovner, state advocacy associate for The Sentencing Program, wrote in a blog about “the remarkable drop in juvenile arrest rates since the mid-1990s has done little to mitigate the gap between how frequently black and white teenagers encounter the juvenile justice system. These racial disparities threaten the credibility of a justice system that purports to treat everyone equitably.

“Across the country, juvenile justice systems are marked by disparate racial outcomes at every stage of the process, starting with more frequent arrests for youth of color and ending with more frequent secure placement.

“The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974 requires that data be collected at multiple points of contact: arrest, referral to court, diversion, secure detention, petition (i.e., charges filed), delinquent findings (i.e., guilt), probation, confinement in secure correctional facilities, and/or transfer to criminal/adult jurisdiction.

“Jurisdictions are also required to report the race of juveniles handled at each of these stages. As a result of this requirement—known as the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) protection of the JJDPA—states have collected racial data on young people’s encounters with the justice system.

“National data is now available from the Department of Justice, and the W. Haywood Burns Institute has organized the publicly available state-by-state data and county-by-county data.”


April 15, 2014 (MagicValley.com)
Prison Reform and Bridging the Partisan Gap

Jon Alexander writes that the United States “is really good at a few things. First and foremost might just be our ability to lock people up. And with the states annually spending north of $50 billion throwing people behind bars, it’s the American prison epidemic that might bridge the liberal-conservative gap that’s leaving most of American policymaking in the lurch.

“The United states constitutes just 5 percent of the planet’s human population. But American jails and prisons hold 25 percent of all the inmates on Earth, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s right, one-quarter of all the world’s prisoners are locked up in the U.S. About one in every 33 American adults is in jail or prison, a number that’s more than doubled since 1990.

“The reasons are packed full of racial and economic baggage. Recent decades saw policy that sent offenders with a little crack-cocaine in his pocket to prison for years. Someone with the more expensive cocaine might get a slap on the wrist. Crack spent decades as the scorn of poor, often black neighborhoods. Middle-class and wealthy whites do coke. Drug policy is especially relevant here. More people are behind bars because of drugs than murder, rape or any other violent offense.

“In Idaho, the incarceration rate of blacks in 2007 was four-times higher than whites, according to a report from The Sentencing Project. The incarceration rate for Hispanics is double that of whites in Idaho. And that’s in one of the statistically safest states in the nation.


April 11, 2014 (Connectionnewspapers.com)
Considering the Effects of Mass Incarceration

There is a racial disparity in the number of people incarcerated in the United States. Nearly one in ten black men in their thirties is in jail. This number has increased due to the war on drugs, which has also seen a racial disparity in the numbers of those convicted.

“Black men have the highest likelihood of incarceration-one in three are likely to serve a prison sentence at some point in their lives,” said Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a research analyst for The Sentencing Project. “For drug convictions, the racial disparities are even higher, and this is even though there is research showing that people of different ethnic backgrounds use drugs at the same rate.” Ghandnoosh joined other leaders in the community at a discussion on this topic at “The Effects of Mass Incarceration: A Public Forum on Criminal Justice Sentencing Reform” hosted by Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke.

Penalties for crack, the crystallized form of the cocaine, which comes in powder form, are harsh compared to those for cocaine. Although the drugs are pharmaceutically the same, a person possessing 28 grams of crack faces a mandatory five year sentence, while 500 grams of cocaine are required for this mandatory sentence. 


April 11, 2014 (Colorlines.com)
For Missouri Moms, A Past Drug Conviction Means No Food Aid, Ever

Missouri is one of 10 states that still ban people with felony drug convictions from ever receiving food stamps. Overall, according to a report by The Sentencing Project, an estimated 180,000 women and their children, primarily families of color, are disproportionately affected by this little-known holdover from Clinton-era welfare reform. Now for the first time Missouri’s legislature is looking at loosening if not lifting the lifetime ban. Even with bipartisan support however, it’s unclear whether the bill will make it through.

The majority of the other states still riding hard for this War on Drugs-era punishment are located in the South.