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
July 23, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
New Publication: Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime

A new report by The Sentencing Project examines the potential for substantial prison population reductions. Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States profiles the experiences of three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – that have reduced their prison populations by about 25% while seeing their crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average.


July 18, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
U.S. Sentencing Commission Unanimously Votes to Reduce Drug Penalties Retroactively

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted today to apply reduced drug penalties retroactively to 46,000 prisoners serving excessive sentences for federal drug offenses.  In April the Commission amended the federal sentencing guidelines to reduce offense levels across drug types.  Today’s vote will help to alleviate the unsustainable burden on the federal prison system by allowing federal prisoners serving time for a drug offense to seek a reduction in their current sentence -- potentially reducing average prison terms nearly two years.  Unless Congress acts to disapprove the amendment, it will go into effect November 1, 2015.


July 18, 2014 (The New York Times)
New Rule Permits Early Release for Thousands of Drug Offenders

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of prisoners serving time for federal drug offenses will be eligible to seek early release beginning next year.

The United States Sentencing Commission, which voted in April to reduce the penalties for most drug crimes, voted unanimously on Friday to make that change retroactive. It will apply to nearly 50,000 federal inmates who are serving time under the old rules.


July 7, 2014
The Sentencing Project Urges Retroactivity for Reduced Federal Drug Penalties

The Sentencing Project is urging the U.S. Sentencing Commission to apply reduced penalties for federal drug offenses retroactively.  

In April, the Commission unanimously voted to lower penalties across drug types, resulting in a sentence reduction of about 11 months for those individuals who would benefit.  The Commission will now consider whether to apply those reductions retroactively to the tens of thousands of people serving prison terms under penalties that are widely seen as excessive.  The Department of Justice has urged the Commission to limit the scope of cases in which retroactivity would apply. 


June 25, 2014 (The Washington Post)
America’s stupidest criminal laws

Imagine this: two defendants, same age, smoke a joint with some friends one July evening in their respective apartments. Neither has a criminal record. Both get caught; one faces an extra two years in jail.

Why? Because he shared drugs within a certain number of feet from a school that’s been out for a month.

The so-called ‘Drug Free School Zone’ is one of many laws that create extra penalties for already illegal acts with no reasonable tie to the public’s safety or the defendant’s particular circumstances.