The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world! With this dubious distinction, it surpasses China, Russia, and every other country. Over two million of its citizens are behind bars, 1 out of 99 persons in the country. The War on Drugs has been spectacularly expensive and thrown into jail a huge number of non-violent people.
"The cost of this massive growth in incarceration is staggering. Americans will spend nearly $40 billion on prisons and jails in the year 2000. Almost $24 billion of that will go to incarcerate 1.2 million nonviolent offenders. Meanwhile, in two of our nation's largest states, California and New York, the prison budgets outstripped the budgets for higher education during the mid-1990s.
""The number of people behind bars not only dwarfs America's historical incarceration rates; it defies international comparisons as well. While America has about 5% of the world's population, almost one in four persons incarcerated worldwide are incarcerated in the US.
"While substantial increases in all categories of inmates have contributed to America's mushrooming incarceration rates, the use of imprisonment for drug offenders has increased particularly sharply, drawing increased attention by researchers and policy makers alike.
"In 1999, the Sentencing Project reported that between 1980 and 1997, drug arrests tripled in the United States. In 1997, four out of five drug arrests (79.5%) were for possession, with 44% of those arrests for marijuana offenses. Between 1980 and 1997, while the number of drug offenders entering prisons skyrocketed, the proportion of state prison space housing violent offenders declined from 55% to 47%.
"Fully 76% of the increase in admissions to America's prisons from 1978 to 1996 was attributable to non-violent offenders, much of that to persons incarcerated for drug offenses.
"Nationwide, blacks comprise 62 percent of drug offenders admitted to state prison. In seven states, blacks constitute between 80 and 90 percent of all people sent to prison on drug charges.
"Nationwide, black men are sent to state prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.
"Two out of five blacks sent to prison are convicted of drug offenses, compared to one in four whites.
"Black men are incarcerated at 9.6 times the rate of white men. In eleven states, they are incarcerated at rates that are 12 to 26 times greater than that of white men.
"Nationwide, one in every 20 black men over the age of 18 is in prison. In five states, between one in 13 and one in 14 black men is in prison.