Californians may want to be aware of a recent analysis that examined prison population data across the United States. Between 1980 and 2012, the population in federal prisons grew by nearly 800 percent, and a large number of those inmates were incarcerated for drug crimes as part of the national War on Drugs. The Urban Institute examined Bureau of Prisons data from 2012 and determined that of the nearly 200,000 federal prisoners, more than half were incarcerated due to drug offenses. More than a third of federal drug offenders had no prior imprisonment before they were sentenced.
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that 54.2 percent of drug offenders analyzed were incarcerated for offenses related to cocaine. Most federal offenders are male and 76 percent are non-white. Another 25 percent are non-U.S. citizens. This data was released one week after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a criminal justice reform bill that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences.
Criminal justice reform is generally designed to give judges more discretion in sentencing, making it possible to offer lower sentences for certain offenders. Justice reform advocates claim that mandatory minimum sentences have caused the federal prison population to balloon. Justice reform has been a bipartisan effort, but advocacy groups argue that it only addresses some of the problems inherent within the significant prison population. While the prison population continues to decline, the Urban Institute has released additional recommendations that could help reduce it further.
Drug charges can result in serious consequences, including long prison sentences and hefty fines. A criminal defense attorney may be able to help those charged with drug crimes argue for reduced sentences or community service as opposed to a prison sentence. An attorney may also argue for a reduced sentence on the basis that a defendant has no prior criminal record.