America’s war on drugs has turned it into the world’s biggest jailer. With about 5% of the world’s population, America holds a quarter of the globe’s prisoners, and most of them are there for drug-related crimes.
Many of these prisoners are first-time offenders. According to US Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost half of drug offenders convicted in federal courts in 1999 were first-time offenders.?Of these, almost all received sentences averaging over four years.
In 1990, the entire US federal prison system held a total of about 57,000 inmates for all offenses combined.?By 2000, federal prisons held almost 130,000 inmates, of which about 75,000 were drug offenders.
The vast majority of drug arrests and incarcerations involve marijuana. In 2000, there were over 1.5 million arrests for drug offenses nationally, up from just over 1 million in 1990.?Marijuana arrests made up about half the soaring total, and 88% of the marijuana arrests were for simple possession. This means that over 40% of all drug arrests in the US are for simple possession of pot. These statistics are real arrests only, and do not include citations, tickets and simple seizure without arrest.
In 2000, there were more arrests made across America for simple pot possession then there were for all violent crimes combined. There was only slightly more arrests for all property crimes then there were arrests for all drug offenses combined.
The US imprisonment rate of 702 people per 100,000 is almost six times higher than that of its neighbor Canada, 7.5 times the imprisonment rate in Germany and more than nine times the rate in France. More Americans are currently incarcerated for drug crimes than the total prison population of the European Union.
Up until 1972, US prison rates were on par with those of Europe, and had been stable for decades. But as President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” prison rates soared, and then soared again as Ronald Reagan re-declared the drug war in 1980. During Clinton’s eight years as president, America’s prison population continued to balloon, about one third faster than under Reagan.
Expect an in-depth look at the drug war and imprisonment in a future issue of Cannabis Culture.
? San Francisco Chronicle article about the “American Gulag”: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/02/24/IN190311.DTL
? Orlando Sentinel article about the “American Gulag”: http://www.mapinc.org/newscc/v02/n1836/a09.html?397