New Research and Papers
Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependence on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities
Justice Policy Institute. March 2011. The report finds that providing people with alternatives like community-based treatment are more cost-effective and provide greater public safety benefits than treatment that comes with the collateral consequences associated with involvement in the criminal justice system.
Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population
Source: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. From press release: Of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nations prisons and jails, 1.5 million meet the DSM IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction, and another 458,000, while not meeting the strict DSM IV criteria, had histories of substance abuse; were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics, according to Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population. Combined these two groups constitute 85 percent of the U.S. prison population.
The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs
(The Sentencing Project April 2009) For the first time in 25 years, since the inception of the "war on drugs," the number of African Americans incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses has declined substantially, according to a Sentencing Project study. It finds a 21.6% drop in the number of blacks incarcerated for a drug offense, a decline of 31,000 people during the period 1999-2005. The study also documents a corresponding rise in the number of whites in state prison for a drug offense, an increase of 42.6% during this time frame, or more than 21,000 people. The number of Latinos incarcerated for state drug offenses was virtually unchanged.The study notes that the black declines in incarceration represent "the end result of 50 state law enforcement and sentencing systems" which need to be examined individually. But overall, the decline in blacks incarcerated for a drug offense follows upon declining arrest and conviction rates for blacks as well. In reviewing the study's findings, African Americans are still imprisoned at more than six times the rate of whites for all offenses. Moreover, high incarceration rates for low-level drug offenses remain a function of the largely punitive approach to drug abuse that has proven expensive and ineffective.
Claiborne Amicus Brief
Amicus brief that The Sentencing Project and the ACLU
submitted on December 21, 2006 to the U.S. Supreme Court
in the case of Claiborne v. U.S. The Claiborne case
results from the Supreme Court's 2005 Booker decision that
declared the federal sentencing guidelines
unconstitutional and required that the guidelines be
advisory. The issue in Claiborne and the companion Rita
case concerns the exercise of judicial discretion in
imposing a "reasonable" sentence.
The Claiborne case involves a sentence for crack
cocaine. The amicus brief focuses on the policy issues
regarding mandatory sentencing, and argues that the crack
cocaine laws have inappropriately targeted low-level
offenses and have created unwarranted racial disparities.
The case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on
February 20, 2007.
The Criminal Justice Costs of Marijuana Prohibition in Rhode Island
Open Doors Rhode Island, April 2010. The report finds that marijuana prohibition has widespread and significant fiscal and human costs, results in unfair and racially disproportionate punishment, and has no demonstrated public safety benefits. There were 1,771 arrests for marijuana possession in 2009, and in 2008 there were 584 incidents of incarceration for marijuana possession. The report recommends decriminalization of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and estimates that this would save $12.7 million in criminal justice costs per year.
Additionally, the report concludes that there is no proof of any crime control benefits of these incarcerations, finding that, "in the year after release from a prison sentence for marijuana, only 7% of individuals were reconvicted for a violent offense, only 2.5% for a violent felony." Despite the fact that white people smoke marijuana at higher rates, black people are punished disproportionately: black people are arrested 1.6 times more frequently for marijuana, and those arrested are incarcerated eight times more frequently than whites. The analysis in the report is based on arrest, court, and Department of Corrections data and the methodology was reviewed by the Department of Corrections. The report also summarizes medical research that demonstrates that marijuana is significantly less of a public health risk than alcohol.
The report is also available at the Open Doors RI web site.
Decades of Disparity: Drug Arrests and Race in the United States
March 2, 2009. Human Rights Watch. This 20-page report says that adult African Americans were arrested on drug charges at rates that were 2.8 to 5.5 times as high as those of white adults in every year from 1980 through 2007, the last year for which complete data were available. About one in three of the more than 25.4 million adult drug arrestees during that period was African American.
Disparity by Design
A new national report shows that drug-free zone laws fall to protect
youth from drug sales and worsen racial disparity in prisons. Justice Policy Institute.
March 2006. Judy Greene, Kevin Pranis, Jason Ziedenberg, authors. Commissioned
by the Drug Policy Alliance
Disparity by Geography: The War on Drugs in America's Cities
By Ryan King of The Sentencing Project. The first city-level analysis of drug arrests, examining data from 43 of the nation's largest cities between 1980 and 2003. The study found that, since 1980, the rate of drug arrests in American cities for African Americans increased by 225 percent, compared to 70 percent among whites. Black arrest rates grew by more than 500 percent in 11 cities during this period; and, in nearly half of the cities, the odds of arrest for a drug offense among African Americans relative to whites more than doubled. May 2008.
Drug Courts: A Review of the Evidence
The report assesses the impact of the drug court movement. The Sentencing Project, April 2009. Originally conceived in 1989 as an alternative to incarceration for persons convicted of low-level drug offenses, there are now more than 1,600 drug courts nationally, covering all 50 states. The Sentencing Project surveyed a wide-range of research to outline general findings on the operation and efficacy of drug courts, and to highlight benefits and potential concerns. Overall, they found:
- Drug courts have generally been demonstrated to have positive benefits in reducing recidivism.
- Evaluations of the cost-effectiveness of drug courts have generally found benefits through reduced costs of crime or incarceration.
- Concern remains regarding potential "net-widening" effects of drug courts by drawing in defendants who might not otherwise have been subject to arrest and prosecution.
Drug Law Reform 2008 - Dramatic Costs Savings For New York State
(Legal Action Center-December 2008) Finds that New York would save over a quarter billion dollars a year by reforming the Rockefeller-Era Drug Laws. When drug law reform is fully operational, it is estimated that New York would save $267,660,000 a year. Even in the first year, estimates show that New York would realize tens of millions of dollars in savings. The study calculated the cost savings that would accrue to New York State by diverting addicted individuals charged with second, non-violent, non-sex felony offenses from prison to community-based treatment, as they comprise the vast majority of individuals who are mandated into prison under current law. LAC believes such individuals should be diverted into mandated treatment if the laws are reformed. The study excludes people charged with Class A felonies. The findings take into account savings generated by the elimination of costs associated with incarceration; savings related to reduced foster care, health care and welfare costs; and increased tax contributions.
Drug Law Resentencing: Saving Tax Dollars with Minimal Community Risk
Legal Aid Society Report Finds that 2004 and 2005 Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms Huge Success: Tens of Millions of Dollars Saved with Low Levels of Recidivism by Individuals Released from Prison - New York Prosecutors Lose Credibility as Report Counters Past and Current Misleading Claims.
A report released on January 14, 2010 by the Legal Aid Society of New York shows that the changes to the Rockefeller Drug Laws in '04 and '05 have been a huge success with tens of millions of dollars being saved and remarkably low levels of recidivism of people who have been re-sentenced and released from prison. On average, people who were re-sentenced and released early from prison as a result of the 2004 and 2005 drug law reforms have an overall recidivism rate of 8.5 percent, while the overall rate of recidivism rate for people released in the same period is nearly 40 percent.
The Economic Cost of Methamphetamine Use in the United States, 2005
By Nancy Nicosia, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Beau Kilmer, Russell Lundberg, James Chiesa. This first national estimate suggests that the economic cost of methamphetamine (meth) use in the United States reached $23.4 billion in 2005. Given the uncertainty in estimating the costs of meth use, this book provides a lower-bound estimate of $16.2 billion and an upper-bound estimate of $48.3 billion. The analysis considers a wide range of consequences due to meth use, including the burden of addiction, premature death, drug treatment, and aspects of lost productivity, crime and criminal justice, health care, production and environmental hazards, and child endangerment. Other potential harms of meth, however, could not be included due to a lack of scientific evidence or to data issues. Although meth causes some unique harms, many of the primary cost drivers are similar to those identified in economic assessments of other illicit drugs. Among the most costly elements are the intangible burden of addiction and premature death, which account for nearly two-thirds of the economic costs. The intangible burden of addiction measures the lower quality of life experienced by those addicted to the drug. Crime and criminal-justice costs also account for a significant share of economic costs, as do lost productivity, removing a child from the parents' home, and drug treatment. One unusual cost captured in the analysis is that associated with the production of meth, which requires toxic chemicals that can result in fire, explosions, and other negative events.
Everyone Pays: A Social Cost Analysis of Incarcerating Parents for Drug Offenses in Hawai’i
By Thomas E. Lengyel, Associate Director of Research & Evaluation, American Humane Association, Denver, CO; and Marilyn Brown, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hawai’i-Hilo, Hilo, Hawai’i. June 2009. Executive Summary and Complete Paper. Contact info for tom Lengyel: toml@AmericanHumane.org. From the Summary: "This apparent windfall from the incapacitation of drug offenders must be balanced against the costs caused by their removal from society and confinement to prison. The $85,000 per prisoner savings from incapacitation is exceeded simply by Hawai’i’s costs for providing a prison bed, which amount to $123,000 per prisoner over the 39 month average length of stay. That is the tip of the iceberg for the social costs of incarceration, which include significant losses to the prisoner and the prisoner’s family in terms of reduced quality of life, lost earnings while in prison, lost future earnings of the release, lost taxes to the state on lost earnings, up-front criminal justice system costs, the cost of parole, foster care for the children of some prisoners, and a host of other costs, some of which are yet to be estimated. Pursuing this cold reality to its logical conclusion shows that the per-prisoner costs of incarceration for the average length of stay exceed the social benefits by $600,000. The net cost to the state for incarcerating the entire cohort comes to $15.6 million, and adding costs to the prisoner and the prisoner’s extended family brings the total cost charged against the welfare of the Hawai’i community to $102 million." (cohort group is 197 prisoners.)
The Failure of the War on Drugs: Charting a New Course for the Commonwealth
The Massachusetts Bar Association Drug Policy Task Force. June 2009. The report urges the Legislature to reform the state's approach to drug prevention, treatment and punishment. "Changing policies from emphasis on incarceration to more encouragement for treatment would allow us to save money, reduce crime, and rebuild families and communities."
Recommendations for reform. The Task Force's recommendations to reform mandatory minimum sentences are the same ones that FAMM supports: allowing drug offenders to apply for parole, work release and earned "good time" deductions, reducing "school zones" to 100 feet, eliminating mandatory sentences for school zone offenders (who will still be punished for the underlying offense) and allowing school zone sentences to be served concurrently with another sentence.
Falling Through the Cracks: Loss of State-Based Financial Aid Eligibility for Students Affected by the Federal Higher Education Act Drug Provision
Source: Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) "The drug provision of the Higher Education Act expressly denies federal aid to persons convicted of state or federal drug offenses for specified periods of time.4 However, the law offers no prescribed method by which states should determine eligibility for state financial aid. This has led to inconsistency and confusion among state financial aid offices, leaving many qualified applicants without the resources they need to go to college, and many financial aid officers believing, incorrectly, that they must deny aid to students who have been convicted of drug offenses simply because the federal government has done so. This report details the findings of research conducted on how the 50 states and the District of Columbia determine eligibility for state-based financial aid for persons who have reported having drug convictions on Question 31 of the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA). The report also makes recommendations for how states can clarify the situation so that students losing federal aid because of drug convictions can still receive state aid."
The Geography of Punishment: How Huge Sentencing Enhancement Zones Harm Communities, Fail to Protect Children
By Aleks Kajstura, Peter Wagner and William Goldberg, Prison Policy Initiative.July 2008.
Harmful Drug Law Hits Home: How Many College Students Have Lost Their Financial Aid Due to Drug Convictions?
Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) obtained college applicants - nearly 200,000 - who have been denied financial aid due to drug convictions, and released this state-by-state report.
Intersecting voices: Impacts of Illinois' Drug Policies
By Kathleen Kane-Willis. The Illinois Consortium on
Drug Policy. August 2006. Two decades of steadily
toughening laws, Illinois now puts more people in
prison for drug crimes than any state except
California. The report finds that more people are being
incarcerated for possessing narcotics than for selling
them and that the state's prisons hold about five black
inmates convicted of drug offenses for every white
inmate--one of the largest racial disparities in the
The Next Big Thing? Methamphetamine in the United States
The Sentencing Project has released a major new
study disproving the popular belief that there exists a
growing methamphetamine "epidemic" within the United
States. To the contrary, the report reveals that
methamphetamine is actually one of the rarest of
illegal drugs used, with its use declining among youth,
stabilizing among adults and demonstrating no increase
in first-time users. The Next Big Thing? documents the
sensationalist coverage of "meth" by most media sources
that have distorted national trends of the drug's
actual prevalence, growth, dangers and treatment.
Important findings of the report include:
- Methamphetamine is among the least commonly used drugs.
- Methamphetamine remains a rare occurrence throughout most of the country and is not indicative of a nationwide problem.
- Methamphetamine use is declining among our nation's youth.
- Drug treatment programs are effective in combating methamphetamine addictions.
Numbers Game: The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration in Mississippi’s Criminal Justice System
By Judith Greene and Patricia Allard of Justice Strategies and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. Examines Mississippi’s sentencing policies, the conduct of drug task forces, and the use of confidential informants. The report documents how many black defendants are pressured to work as informants in drug cases and provides first hand accounts of the damage done to individuals, families, and communities. Greene and Allard discuss how task force funding is contingent on what they coin the "numbers game," whereby confidential informants are used to increase the number of overall arrests and convictions. They assert that the incentives embedded in this practice are riddled with abuse and corruption that encourage racial disparities in drug law enforcement.
Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States
(2000). This report, issued by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, has many useful graphs and statistical comparisons focused on individual states and the inequities of incarceration based on race.
Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations: A Research Based Guide
July 25, 2006, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Report encourages methadone and other addiction medications, not just reliance on 12-step programs. Asserts that relapse is to be expected, even after long periods of incarceration, if effective treatment is not provided during and after time spent in prison. The report includes information on brain changes that help explain why addiction is a form of chronic disease. The report states that "continuing or re-emerging drug use during treatment requires a clinical response either increasing the 'dosage' or level of treatment, or changing the treatment intervention."
Proposition 36: Five Years Later
Justice Policy Institute report documents huge taxpayer savings through doing away with prison sentences in favor of treatment. That report said the program, saved California $173 million in its first year and $2.50 for every dollar invested since then. www.justicepolicy.org. April 2006.
Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System
October 2011. U.S. Sentencing Commission.
From the Sentencing Project Race & Justice Newsletter "A new 645-page report by the United States Sentencing Commission examines the impact of mandatory minimum penalties on federal sentencing, the first such assessment since the Commission's examination of this issue in 1991. The Commission concludes that “certain mandatory minimums apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently."
The Commission's analysis also includes an assessment of the racial dynamics of mandatory sentencing. African-American offenders were subject to mandatory minimum penalties at a higher rate (65.1%) than were white (53.5%) and Hispanic (44.3%) offenders. Furthermore, African-American offenders received relief from mandatory minimums at a lower rate (34.9%) than did white (46.5%) and Hispanic (55.7%) offenders."
Sentencing with Discretion: Crack Cocaine Sentencing After Booker
The report coincides with the one-year anniversary of the
historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v.
Booker, in which the Court struck down the mandatory
application of the federal sentencing guidelines as
unconstitutional, but kept the guidelines intact by
requiring that they be consulted in an advisory capacity.
Examining published court decisions, the new report
assesses how judges have utilized their expanded range of
discretion in one of the most contentious areas of federal
sentencing, crack cocaine offenses. The key findings of
the report are the following:
- Continuing Harsh Sentences -- Federal judges continue
to impose stiff prison sentences in crack cocaine cases
despite deviations from the federal guidelines. Of the
published decisions analyzed, defendants in crack cocaine
cases were sentenced to an average prison term of 11
- Judges Using Discretion in Individual Cases -- Judges
are employing their discretion to assess individual case
characteristics and in selected cases, to impose sentences
that better meet the goals of sentencing. These factors
include defendant circumstances, goals of sentencing, and
policy recommendations of the U.S. Sentencing
- The report recommends that: 1) There is no need for a
Booker "fix" since judges appear to be imposing harsh
penalties in serious cases, but distinguishing these from
those cases in which the defendant is less culpable; and,
2) Congress should reconsider the crack/powder cocaine
sentencing disparity in order to expand the range of cases
in which judges can consider individual case
Should We Be Sentencing for Dollars: Rethinking the Proposed Drug Tax
By Patricia Warth and Alan Rosenthal, Center for Community Alternatives.
The 2008-2009 New York Governor's budget proposes a tax on illegal drug
activity that will be imposed on people convicted of drug-related crimes.
The Governor estimates that this "Drug Tax" will add $13-$17 million per
year to New York's general fund. While the Governor's desire to close New
York's budget deficit is understandable, the proposed Drug Tax will not help
to achieve this goal. Instead, it will adversely affect reintegration and
public safety, producing financial and human costs that will dwarf any
revenues the tax generates.
A report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (May 2009) documents the federal, state and local governments spend almost half a trillion dollars every year - almost 11 percent of their total budgets - as a result of alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse and addiction.
That's right. Out of every dollar federal and state governments spent on substance misuse in 2005 (the latest data available), 95 cents paid for the enormous burden of this problem on health care, criminal justice, child welfare, education, and other programs. And only 2 cents were invested in prevention and treatment programs that could reduce many of these costs - and
save lives. Researchers studied all federal, state and local budgets for 2005 using careful, conservative methods to determine how much of each major budget category was directly linked to substance misuse. For example, they determined how much of each state's Medicaid and other health care expenses were due to one of over 70 medical diagnoses that are caused or made worse by alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse and addiction. They did the same for criminal justice, welfare and other key government budgets. They also identified all government spending on prevention, treatment and research, regulation of alcohol and tobacco products and drug interdiction. When the numbers are added up, the total is really shocking: 467.7 billion dollars. Spending less than 2% of the federal and state costs for prevention and treatment, and more than 95% shoveling up the mess, is upside down public policy that wastes billions in taxpayer dollars at a time when resources are scarce, and results in untold human suffering.
Study Examines Support for Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Cocaine
First-time cocaine offenders caught with five grams of
the drug should go to drug treatment or get probation,
not prison, three of four white Americans say. The
Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP)
reported that the survey conducted by the National
Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago
also found that those who called for imprisoning
cocaine users were more likely to make moral judgments
about users, to blame users for their addictions, to
deny that racism is a problem in the U.S., and to
believe that blacks are more likely than whites to use
cocaine. The survey of 783 white Americans found that
51 percent favored treatment for cocaine offenders,
while 26 percent favored probation. "Scholars have
suggested that racism and moralism have influenced
American attitudes on addressing drug problems, and we
believe that this is the first study to empirically
test whether these factors are related," said study co-
author Kenneth Rasinski.Added Rosalyn Lee, the other
co-author of the study: "Our study shows that racial
attitudes were related to the tendency to blame and
make moral judgments about addicts for addiction; and
those with a tendency to blame and moralize were more
likely to support prison sentences."
Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States
Human Rights Watch documents with detailed new statistics persistent racial disparities among people with drug convictions sent to prison in 34 states. All of these states send black drug offenders to prison at much higher rates than whites. Across the 34 states, a black man is 11.8 times more likely than a white man to be sent to prison on drug charges, and a black woman is 4.8 times more likely than a white woman. In 16 states, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at rates between 10 and 42 times greater than the rate for whites. The 10 states with the greatest racial disparities in prison admissions for drug offenders are: Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Colorado, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. (May 2008)
Treatment Behind Bars: Substance Abuse Treatment in New York State Prisons
By the Correctional Association of New York. A three year study by the Prison Visiting Project. April 2011. The report includes major findings regarding the system's programs such as:
* an overly broad and unclear screening process;
* a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment programs;
* substantial variability among treatment programs;
* treatment staff with varying degrees of experience, training, skills and commitment;
* limited clinical supervision and program oversight; and
* insufficient discharge planning and reentry services.
As the largest provider of substance abuse treatment in the State, New York's prison system has the ability to benefit tens of thousands of individuals in need of substance abuse treatment by providing the highest, most appropriate quality of care. The report concludes that the State does not need to spend more money to address many of the report’s identified problems. Policymakers can significantly improve prison treatment programs by reallocating resources, developing a more effective assessment process, drawing on proven existing instruments and programs and increasing collaborations with outside agencies.
A 25-Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on American Society
Sentencing Project has released a report that examines the burden of the "war on drugs" on the criminal justice system and American communities. The report assesses the strategy of combating drug abuse primarily with enhanced punishments at the expense of investments in treatment and prevention. It documents how the drug war has produced a record expansion of prison and jail systems and highlights additional indicators of the war's impact on the criminal justice system and communities, including:
* Drug arrests have more than tripled since 1980 to a record 1.8 million by 2005;
* Four of five (81.7%) drug arrests were for possession offenses, and 42.6% were for marijuana charges in 2005;
* Nearly six in 10 persons in state prison for a drug offense have no history of violence or high-level drug selling;
* Only 14% of persons in 2004 who report using drugs in the month before their arrest had participated in a treatment program, a decline of more than half from participation rates in 1991;
* A shortage of treatment options in many low-income neighborhoods contributes to drug abuse being treated primarily as a criminal justice problem, rather than a social problem.
The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties
Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a report (December 4, 2007) which finds that 97 percent of the nation's large-population counties imprisoned African Americans at a higher rate than whites. The report documents racial disparities in the use of prison for drug offenses in 193 of the 198 counties that reported to government entities. "The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties" is the first study to examine drug imprisonment rates at the county level. It is also the first study to document the disproportionate impact of drug imprisonment on African American communities at the county level.
Major findings of The Vortex include:
While tens of millions of people use illicit drugs, prison and policing responses to drug behavior have a concentrated impact on a subset of the population. In 2002, there were 19.5 million illicit drug users, 1.5 million drug arrests, and 175,000 people admitted to prison for a drug offense. While African Americans and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates, African Americans are ten times more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug offenses.
Of the 175,000 admitted to prison nationwide in 2002, over half were African American, despite the fact that African Americans make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population.
There is no relationship between the rates at which people are sent to prison for drug offenses and the rates at which people use drugs in counties.
Higher county drug prison admission rates were associated with how much was spent on policing and the judicial system, higher poverty and unemployment rates, and the proportion of the county's population that is African American. The full report and a very good interactive map of states and counties is at:
The War on Marijuana in Black and White
Report by the ACLU (June 2013). African Americans are four times more likely to be charged with possession of marijuana than whites. State by state statistics and analysis of arrests and costs.
OVER-POLICING: Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million pot arrests in the U.S. That’s one bust every 37 seconds and hundreds of thousands ensnared in the criminal justice system.
WASTED TIME AND MONEY: Enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana.
STAGGERING RACIAL BIAS: Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.