Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Fight against drugs packing US federal prisons, study says


More than half of US federal prison inmates are in jail for drug trafficking, with the harshest sentences going to crack cocaine dealers, most of them African-Americans, a study published on Tuesday said.

The federal prison population increased by 84 percent between 1998 and 2012, due largely to a crackdown on drugs, according to a study by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The report comes as the US grapples with the harsh policies that have seen petty criminals and drug users sentenced to long prison terms for minor, non-violent offenses.

About 52 percent of inmates were in jail for a drug offense as their most serious crime, according to the study, which was based on 2012 data.

More than half (54 percent) of those inmates were in jail for cocaine — either in the form of crack (28 percent) or powder (26 percent).

Sentences for methamphetamine were next (23 percent), followed by marijuana (12 percent) and heroin (6 percent).

African-Americans made up 88 percent of crack cocaine offenders, while Latinos accounted for 54 percent of powder cocaine offenders.

Caucasians made up 48 percent of methamphetamine offenders.

The average drug offender prison sentence was more than 11 years, but crack cocaine offenders received harsher sentences, with an average of more than 14 years. The study, which was based on 94,678 federal prison drug offenders, also indicated that crack cocaine offenders had a greater tendency to have extensive criminal histories and use weapons.

The US is scheduled to next month release thousands of prisoners considered at low risk of reoffending, as part of an effort to ease prison overcrowding and redress overly harsh sentences.

The release comes after the US Sentencing Commission, which sets policy for federal crimes, reduced its sentencing guidelines for drug possession.

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