Drug Offenses Account for Prison Population Boom <br> Incarcerating Nonviolent Drug Offenders Wastes Billions of Dollars; Destroys Lives
A record 7 million people - 1 in 32 American adults - were behind bars, probation or parole by the end of last year, according to a report released today by the Justice Department.
Drug law violations play a disproportionate role. From 1995 to 2003, inmates in federal prison for drug law violations accounted for a 49 percent increase in prison population growth.
"I think these numbers just don't register with most Americans," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. "They only make sense when you point out that the United States has five percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population; that we rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens; and that we now imprison more people for drug law violations than all of western Europe - with a much larger population - incarcerates for all offenses.
"Imagine what a difference it would make if we just stopped locking up people for nonviolent drug offenses," he added.
"I spent 12 years behind bars for a first time nonviolent offense," said Anthony Papa, communications specialist at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Many of the people I met were serving long sentences behind bars on drug charges and were not major drug dealers. They were people who sold drugs to support a habit. These individuals, their families and society would have benefited from receiving treatment, not jail time."