California Imprisons the Nonviolent
|August 11, 2004||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Prisons — The Primitive Tool of Ignorance
California leads US in incarcerating drug offenders
25-fold increase in Californians incarcerated for drug offenses since 1980
California has the nation’s highest rate of imprisoning drug offenders according to a new report released on July 27. The report by the Justice Policy Institute, found that the number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in California has increased 25-fold since 1980 and that there are twice as many people incarcerated in state prison for drug offenses today as the entire state prison population of 1980.
In releasing these figures, Dan Macallair, Vice President of the Justice Policy Institute noted that, “a 1990 bi-partisan commission established by former Governor George Deukmejian found that California’s criminal justice system is out of balance partly because of its emphasis on imprisoning drug offenders. Since that report the situation has only worsened. It is time for balance and rationality in our criminal justice system.”
The report, entitled Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States also found that it cost Californians over $1 billion last year to incarcerate 44,455 persons for drug offenses in state prison, almost half of whom are incarcerated for simple possession. These figures should be considered conservative, since they do not include the costs of county jail inmates incarcerated for drugs or parolees and probationers incarcerated because they tested positive for drug use.
“More than anyone, I understand the difference between a violent offense and an act in which the offender hurts no one but himself,” stated Marc Klaas, President of the Klaas Foundation for Kids. “Study after study has shown that money spent on treatment and prevention reaps several times as much crime-control as money spent on incarceration for nonviolent offenders.”
Other significant national findings in the report include:
- There are almost as many inmates imprisoned nationally for drug offenses today (458,131) as the entire US prisoner population of 1980 (474,368).
Since 1980, the number of violent offenders entering America’s prisons has doubled, while the number of nonviolent prisoners has tripled and the number of persons imprisoned for drug offenses has increased 11-fold.
It will cost state, county, and federal taxpayers over $9 billion to imprison 458,131 drug offenders this year.
The report comes at a time when America’s drug policies are under increased criticism, and when policy alternatives have arisen around the country.
In May, an initiative qualified for the November ballot in California which would substantially reduce drug commitments to prison and fund an additional $120 million in drug treatment.
On June 8, Human Rights Watch released a report that found that the war on drugs had been waged overwhelmingly against African Americans.
On June 22, New York State’s Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye announced a new drug reform initiative that would provide treatment in lieu of imprisonment for 10,000 New York State drug offenders.
On July 27, US Rep. John Conyers will announce federal legislation to divert nonviolent drug offenders from incarceration into treatment.
On July 29 and August 11, two “Shadow” conventions are set to coincide with the Republican and Democratic National Conventions with drug policy reform amongst three issues topping the convention agendas.
“America is discovering that it does indeed have a drug problem,” stated JPI Director and report co-author Vincent Schiraldi. “And that problem is that we’ve focused on imprisonment as the near-exclusive solution to substance abuse, while giving short shrift to treatment and prevention.”
The Justice Policy Institute is a research and public policy organization in Washington, DC. JPI is a project of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. This research was funded by a grant from the Open Society Institute
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