(press release from the Drug Policy Forum of California, 12/10/99)
California Drug Offender Prison Population Up from 0 in 1900 to 46,000 at End of Century, One in Eight Imprisoned for Simple Possession
The century is ending with a record number of drug prisoners in California, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Corrections. As of June 1999, the state prison system held 45,874 drug offenders, a record 28.3% of the prison population. Of these, 19,743 -- a record 12.2% of all prisoners -- were being held for simple possession (not sales) of drugs that were entirely legal when the century began.
The number of marijuana prisoners (1,903) is also near record levels, up 12% since the passage of California's medical marijuana initiative, Prop. 215, and nearly twenty times the level of twenty years ago.
Not included in these figures are prisoners held in county jails and federal prisons.
While the number of drug prisoners in California has exploded over fivefold since 1986, and their proportion in the prison population has doubled, illegal drug usage has remained more or less constant over the same period.
"The figures show clearly that the war on drugs is bankrupt," comments DPFCA spokesman Dale Gieringer. "California taxpayers are spending over $1 billion per year to incarcerate people for inherently non-violent drug crimes, with no evident public benefits. When this century began, drug crime was unknown. Opiates, cocaine and other drugs were legally available over the counter in drug stores, yet addiction rates were no higher than today."
The state's war on drugs began in 1907, when the legislature banned sale of opiates and cocaine except on prescription. Since then, the century has witnessed some 6 million drug arrests in California. Over 3 million Californians committed drug crimes this year, mainly possession.
A ballot initiative to eliminate prison sentences for non-violent drug possession offenders and substitute drug diversion programs instead is being circulated by the Campaign for New Drug Policies.
For further information, call Dale Gieringer at (510) 540-1066, or e-mail [email protected].