Skip to main content

Sentencing: Illinois Drug War at Full Throttle, Study Finds

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

A study released Tuesday by Roosevelt University's Institute for Metropolitan Affairs in Chicago has found that Illinois is second only to California when it comes to locking up drug war prisoners. Some 13,000 drug offenders were sent to prison in Illinois in 2002, second only to California's nearly 40,000. Illinois trumped states with larger populations, such as Texas and New York.

It's not just raw numbers where Illinois ranks high, according to "Intersecting Voices: Impacts of Illinois' Drug Policies". When it comes to drug possession prisoners per capita, Illinois again ranks second in the nation, trailing only Mississippi and throwing people in prison for drug possession faster than "lock 'em up" states like Oklahoma, Missouri, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Not in the least surprisingly, the study, authored by researchers Kathleen Kane-Willis and Jennifer Janichek (a member of the board of directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy), found that although whites and blacks used illicit drugs at the same rates, blacks were imprisoned at a rate of six for each white drug offender. Here, Illinois can claim first place nationally in the per capita rate of African Americans imprisoned for drug offenses.

"The number of people who face incarceration in Illinois for drug possession -- and the racial disparity of those who are incarcerated -- is just staggering," said Kathleen Kane-Willis, lead author of the study and assistant director of the Institute for Metropolitan Affairs.

What is also staggering is the explosive growth in drug war prisoners in Illinois. In 1983, drug offenders made up 4.9% of the state prison population; in 2002, they made up 37.9%. The drug war prisoner population grew from a little over 400 in 1983 to almost 13,000 in 2002, a mind-bending 2,748% increase in two decades.

Also staggering is the cost of locking up thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. The study estimates that Illinois spent about $280 million to imprison drug offenders in 2002. There is a better way, said Kane-Willis. "Drug abuse is a public health problem, and our study suggests that treatment for drug offenders is more appropriate, more cost-effective and has better results than incarceration."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


tempuser15102 (not verified)

Illinois is terrible. i had one friend that got 2 weeks in Cook county jail for an ounce, and another that got 2 years probation for a roach.

After 24 years there I am happy to have left.

Tue, 08/29/2006 - 4:02pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I have found that Illinois loves to incarcerate any offender that doesn't have the ability to pay hefty fines. I have been convicted of four felonies in this state and have been sentenced to probation every time because I basically dare them to incarcerate me. Told them i'd love to be in jail where I don't have to work, can watch TV all day, have a roof over my head, free meals, free health care and security, all at the expense of taxpayers of which I am tired of being. Of course they don't jail me, nor are they concerned about any treatment or rehabilitation. All they want is money. They know I can't pay if I'm in jail. After this probation is over I'm headed for Canada....Land of the Free!

Thu, 09/07/2006 - 8:20pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Young black men in illinios need to know the facts and most pf us dont get to know the truth until after we' have been locked up already and naturally it is far to late by then and you have even fewer choices by then. So educate the young and help the helpless we have to save ourselves.

Thu, 10/16/2008 - 11:18am Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.