Almost Half Of Federal Prisoners Held For Drug Crimes


By Nicole Flatow

Although the overall U.S. prison population declined slightly in 2011, the federal prison population continued to rise, with rates of drug and immigration offenders that eclipse those held for violent crimes. While only 8 percent of federal prisoners were sentenced for violent crimes in 2011, almost half of federal inmates – 48 percent – were in prison for drug crimes, according to Department of Justice statistics. Another 11 percent were held for immigration offenses – one of the largest-growing segments of the prison population.

These numbers reflect the impact of the aggressive U.S. “War on Drugs,” a major contributor to the United States’ standing as the number one jailer in the world. Overall declines in U.S. prisons of 0.9 percent are attributable to state prisons, as some states have been moved by budget crises to adopt innovative reforms, and some jurisdictions have moved toward decriminalizing minor drug offenses.

But federal drug law remains draconian, with harsh mandatory minimum sentences for sometimes minor nonviolent roles in drug deals.

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