DRUG WAR FACTS: Good news was reported with the December 2011 release of the “Prisoners in 2010″ report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. “The combined U.S. prison population decreased 0.6% in 2010, the first decline since 1972.”  While we can somewhat celebrate this downward blip, these numbers need to be put in context.
A year and a half earlier, the Pew Center on the States announced the decline, but went further in its analysis stating, “Between 1925 (the first year national prison statistics were officially collected) and 1972, the number of state prisoners increased from 85,239 to 174,379.” Placing these numbers in context, in 2010, state prisons housed 1,395,356 inmates, an increase of +1537% over 1925 and +700% over 1972.
It wasn’t population growth or a corresponding increase in the number of “bad guys” that caused the massive prison expansion. From 1925 to 2010, the U.S. population grew by +167%; from 1972 to 2010, the percentage increase equaled
According the Pew Center, “This change was fueled by stiffer sentencing and release laws and decisions by courts and parole boards, which sent more offenders to prison and kept them there for longer terms.”
Many of these laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s were a reaction to drug war induced hysteria, which in turn fueled prison growth. To illustrate, 25% of federal inmates had “drugs” as their most serious offense in 1980 – a total of 4,900 prisoners. Just 10 years later in 1990, almost 57,000 (50%) federal inmates counted “drugs” as their most serious offense. Thirty years later in 2010, federal inmates with drug offenses numbered almost 100,000. There were almost 20 times more “drug” prisoners in 2010 than in 1980 for a population that had only increased by about one third.
The explosive growth in the prison population has strained the prison system. In 2010, “Nineteen state systems were operating above their highest capacity, with seven states at least 25% over their highest capacity at yearend 2010, led
by Alabama at 196% and Illinois at 144%.”
Enter the private prison industry. The “Prisoners in 1994″ report made scant reference to privately run prisons, with only North Carolina placing 1,000 inmates out of state because of overcrowding. By 2010, “About 16% of federal prisoners (33,830) and nearly 7% of state prisoners (94,365) were housed in private facilities.”
According the American Civil Liberties Union, “As incarceration rates skyrocket, the private prison industry expands at exponential rates, holding ever more people in its prisons and jails, and generating massive profits.”
Former Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey foretold the growing prison industrial complex and its relationship to drugs in a 1996 keynote address for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “I believe that we have created an American gulag. We
have 1.6 million people behind bars, and probably two-thirds of those in the Federal system are there for drug-related crimes.”
By today’s standards, he was a little off on his numbers. The “American gulag” now holds well over 2 million prisoners with more than 300,000 there on drug convictions. In this context, the downward blip in prison growth is not much to celebrate.
 “Prisoners in 2010,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, December, 2011. – [ http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/p10.pdf ]
 “Prison Count 2010: State Population Declines for the First Time in 38
Years,” The Pew Center on the States, April 2010. – [ http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/Prison_Count_2010.pdf ]
 “U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2011,” U.S. Census, 2011.
- [ http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/11statab/pop.pdf ]
 Blanchard, Michael D., and Chin, Gabriel J., “Identifying the Enemy in the War on Drugs: A Critique of the Developing Rule Permitting Visual Identification of Indescript White Powder in Narcotics Prosecutions,” The American University Law Review, February 1998.
- [ http://www.wcl.american.edu/journal/lawrev/47/blanchard.pdf?rd=1 ]
 “Prisoners in 1994,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1995. – [ http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/Pi94.pdf ]
 “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” American
Civil Liberties Union, November 2011. – [ http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/bankingonbondage_20111102.pdf ]
 Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey (USA, Ret.), Director, ONDCP, Keynote Address, Opening Plenary Session, National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research, National Institute on Drug Abuse, September 19, 1996.
- [ http://archives.drugabuse.gov/meetings/CODA/Keynote2.html ] The above Facts can be found in the “Prisons & Jails” and “Prisons & Drug Offenders” chapters of Drug War Facts.
- [ http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/Prisons_and_Jails ]
- [ http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/Prisons_and_Drugs ]