San Francisco, CA: A new Justice Policy Institute study reveals that California leads the nation in drug offender imprisonment. The study also reveals that California counties that most vigorously pursued harsh enforcement strategies did not experience greater declines in drug use or crime. The major findings include:
California leads the nation with a drug offender imprisonment rate of 115 per 100,000. The national average is 44.6. In 1980, only 379 Californians were sent to prison for drug possession offenses compared to 12,749 in 1999, a population-adjusted rate increase of 2,244%, a more than 20-fold increase.
In the past three years, more Californians were imprisoned for drug possession (38,716) than sales and manufacturing (35,276). Counties with the strictest drug law enforcement policies did not experience greater crime or drug use declines. In most instances increased rates of drug arrests and imprisonment coincided with crime increases or slower crime decreases.
Rising rates of drug imprisonment were not associated with changes in crime rates. For example, Riverside County's drug possession imprisonment rate is 500% greater than Contra Costa County's yet the violent crime rate in Contra Costa is 30% lower. Counties that concentrated their enforcement efforts on felony manufacture or sale rather than on simple possession drug offenses were significantly more likely to experience violent crime declines and larger reductions in property crime rates.
The study is the most comprehensive analysis yet completed on California drug policy enforcement and imprisonment. The analysis includes a comparison of California's 12 largest counties, that account for over three-fourths of the state's population (individual county analysis is provided in the study). According to study co-author, Daniel Macallair, "the findings cast serious doubt on prison advocate claims that strict and harsh drug enforcement is effective crime control policy. It is also good news for counties that adopted a more balanced approach to their drug problem."
"Drug Use and Justice: An
Examination of California Drug Policy