Washington, DC: Decriminalizing so-called ‘victimless’ crimes, particularly those related to drug use, can reduce the US prison population without adversely affecting public safety, according to the findings of a study published this week by the JFA Institute, a Washington, DC criminal-justice think tank.
“According to the US Department of Justice, approximately 30-40 percent of all current prison admissions involve crimes that have no direct or obvious victim other than the perpetrator,” the report finds. “The drug category constitutes the largest offense category, with 31 percent of all prison admissions resulting from such crimes.”
Previous data released last year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses.
The report states, “[V]iolence that surrounds drug trafficking in the United States is largely absent” in Western European countries that have liberalized their drug possession policies. The authors further note that the decriminalization of drugs, particularly marijuana, in regions that have enacted such reforms has not been associated with an increase in crime rates.
The report speculates that decriminalizing illicit drugs, along with enacting modest reforms in sentencing and parole, would save taxpayers an estimated $20 billion per year and reduce the prison population from 1.5 million to below 700,000.
Currently, more than 1.5 million Americans are serving time in state and federal prisons, up from fewer than 200,000 in 1970. (Another 750,000 Americans are incarcerated in local jails.) Yet, despite this increase in incarceration, the US crime rate today is approximately the same as it was in the early 70s, when the prison boom began.
A previous JFA report, commissioned for the NORML Foundation in 2005, concluded that depenalizing minor marijuana possession offenses would not increase marijuana use and would enable law enforcement to reallocate criminal justice resources toward addressing more serious crimes.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the study, “Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population” is available online at: http://www.jfa-associates.com/publications/.