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Incarceration and Drug Offenses

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Prof. John Pfaff has an interesting post up over at PrawfsBlawg that highlights the common misconception that the incarceration rates in the United States are largely due to drug offenses.  As he discusses:

Two things jump out on this graph. First, after a rapid rise the percent of drug offenders peaks at 21.8%, in 1990. Second, from 1990 forward the fraction steadily declines, with only a few upticks here and there, to 18.4% in 2008; by 2009, it was down to 17.8%. In other words, in 1990, nearly 80% of all prisoners were non-drug offenders, and by 2009 that percent had risen to more than 84%. And almost all of these other inmates are serving time for violent or property offenses.
Adding in the federal system, which is much more drug-focused--about half of all federal prisoners are serving time for drug crimes--does not change numbers or trends much: 24.1% in 1990, 22.1% in 2009. This is unsurprising: despite the extensive (in fact, quite excessive) attention it receives from legal academics, the federal system held only 13.5% of all prisoners in 2011, and until the 2000s it wasn't even the largest prison system in the country, lagging behind California.

Since this data is presumably derived from publicly available sources, one wonders why it has taken so long for the message to get out. 

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