A new report released by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that for the 3rd straight year, the overall number of inmates in U.S. prisons has decline; despite this, over 330,00 people remain in prison for drug offenses, with a largely disproportionate amount of these individuals being minorities.
According to the report, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in America at the end of last year, which was down down 1.7% (27,770 inmates) from the previous year.
Although the decline is minimal, it’s significant, given that the prison population in America has consistently risen from just over 300,000 prisoners in 1980, to over 1.6 million in 2009; the U.S. now harbors over 25% of the world’s prison population, despite accounting for less than 5% of the world’s overall population.
Despite this decrease in overall prisoners, the number of federal prisoners is still on the rise; the amount of people in federal prisons rose by 0.7% in 2012 compared to the year before.
Among the nation’s nearly 220,000 federal prisoners, an absurd 47% are doing time for drug offenses; over 103,000 in total. When combined with the over 229,000 individuals doing time for state-level drug charges, the numbers are really eye-opening; roughly a third of a million people are currently in prison because of a pointless, costly drug war which has failed at everything it has set out to accomplish.
Of these prisoners, 59% are either African American or Hispanic, compared to 35% who are Caucasian; these numbers indicate a deep-seeded racism in the criminal justice system, especially in regards to the drug war; this, of course, is nothing new; a 2009 Human Rights Watch report found that African Americans are 2.5 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested for a drug offense, and 8 times more likely to be charged, despite not using drugs at a higher rate.
Overall these new numbers offer a glimpse of a better future – a decline in a hugely over-inflated prison population – but a deeper look makes it clear that the system is still disgustingly broken, with nearly half of all federal prisoners being jailed for drug offenses. As we wrote about recently; the drug war has failed – it’s time for an end!