Who Gets Time for Federal Drug Offenses? Data Trends and Opportunities for Reform

Brief

Who Gets Time for Federal Drug Offenses? Data Trends and Opportunities for Reform

November 12, 2015

Abstract

Almost half of the 195,809 federally sentenced individuals in the Bureau of Prisons are serving time for drug trafficking offenses, but little is known about their criminal histories or the nature of their offenses. This brief examines both, finding that many people in federal prison for drug crimes have minimal or no criminal histories, and most were not convicted of violent or leading roles. Nonetheless, many serve long prison sentences due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Lasting reductions in the size of the federal prison population will require big cuts in length of stay for drug offenses.

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