Newsbrief: Sentencing Project Finds Most Drug Offenders Are Nonviolent, Minorities 9/20/02

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In a new report released this week, "Distorted Priorities: Drug Offenders in State Prisons," The Sentencing Project has found that most drug offenders in state prisons are black males with no history of violence or major drug dealing. More than half of the 251,000 people held in state prisons for drug offenses in 1997, when the last federal five-year survey of state inmates was made, had no history of violence, the report found.

Some 124,885 state inmates were serving prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes without any high-level drug dealing involvement, and more than half of them were black. Blacks represented 56% of all drug offenders, even though they make up only 13% of monthly drug users, the Sentencing Project reported. Hispanics made up 23% of state drug offenders, while making up only 9% of all monthly drug users. Thus, minorities made up nearly four-fifths of all imprisoned drug offenders while being responsible for only slightly more than one-fifth of all monthly drug use.

The states paid about $5 billion to house the quarter-million drug offenders in state prisons in 1997, the study found.

"They represent a pool of appropriate candidates for diversion to treatment programs or some other type of community-based sanctions," the authors wrote of the nonviolent drug offenders. "The 'war on drugs' has been overly punitive and costly and has diverted attention and resources from potentially more constructive approaches."

See http://www.sentencingproject.org/news/distorted_priorities.pdf to read the report.

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