Mass Incarceration of Drug Trafficking Offenders

An end may be in sight for the United States’ issue with mass incarceration of drug trafficking offenders as thousands of federal inmates were released over the weekend.

Over 6,000 inmates released early

Photo by: Sam Villaroman

Photo by: Sam Villaroman

Around 6,100 drug trafficking offenders around the United States were released this weekend from federal prisons. This may appear as though the U.S. Sentencing Commission is making strides in reducing the mass incarceration of drug trafficking offenders; however most of these inmates were already on the final leg of their sentencing with the majority having already been released to halfway homes. Others who were not U.S. citizens were released into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only to await being deported. While this may have been just a small step, the U.S. Sentencing Commission plans on taking more by granting early release to another 16,500 more drug trafficking offenders within the next year. Optimistically, this early release program will have positive results and will eventually lessen the mass incarceration levels of drug trafficking offenders in all federal prisons.

More than 2 million behind bars

Currently the United States averages over 2 million inmates housed in both jails and prisons around the nation, the largest amount of inmates than any other country in the world. While several offenders are imprisoned for violent crimes or repeat offenses, there is a large amount of inmates who are serving time for drug offenses. According to the Special Report issued last month by the U.S. Department of Justice: Since 1994 nearly 182,000 new offenders have been sentenced to Federal prisons. Out of those, 52% were drug trafficking offenders. More than half of the nation’s federal prison inmates are sitting behind bars for nothing more than drugs.

War on drugs & extreme penalties

The war on drugs was officially declared in the early 1970’s, although it didn’t pick up speed until well into the 80’s when the Drug Enforcement Administration was founded. With the cracking down on drugs and the harsh penalties that followed, the amount of people incarcerated for drug crimes since then has skyrocketed. Not only are more individuals facing jail or prison time for drugs; the penalties for possession, distribution, and drug trafficking offenders are extreme. For example, the DEA states that penalties for drug trafficking offenders who have a quantity of more than 500 grams but less than 5 kilograms of cocaine will face “not less than 5 years and not more than 40 years.” Those convicted a second time, or those arrested with more than 5 kilos are facing “not less than 10 years and not more than life.” Anywhere from 5 years to life for drug trafficking offenders is outrageous and something is finally being done about it, even if there are other incentives for releasing inmates early.

Ulterior Motive

While claiming that reducing the harshness of penalties for drug trafficking offenders is a priority, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has other motives for releasing drug offenders early.

• According to the Sensible Sentencing Reform: The 2014 Reduction of Drug Sentences Policy Profile, “Congress directed the Commission […] to “minimize the likelihood that the Federal prison population will exceed the capacity of the Federal Prisons.”

• Stated elsewhere on this policy profile the Commission adds that this program “could save close to 80,000 prison bed years over time.”

• Additionally, “The BOP budget is well over $6 billion, accounting for 25% of DOJ’s total budget.”

Regardless of the motive, most of the public are in favor of reduced sentencing for drug trafficking offenders and see the change in Federal sentencing procedures as a positive step in the right direction. For more information on the reduction of drug sentences, and how it might affect those facing new charges in the future, contact a criminal defense attorney today.