Urban Institute: Evaluate the Debate

For Immediate Release:

Incarceration Project Update: Who Gets Time for Federal Drug Offense? Data Trends and Opportunities for Reform

New York, NY – March 23 2016 – In preparation for the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing set for March 29th, the Task Force has concluded that the United State’s recent prison population growth stems primarily from the length of time people are required to serve in prison for federal drug offenses based upon data analysis of federal sentencing and corrections.

These findings shift the focus and priority of the Task Force’s policy recommendations to make big cuts in lengths of stay for drug offenses, as the data suggests that these longer sentences work to raise recidivism rates. The individuals serving time were overwhelmingly shown to have minimal prior convictions, a lower risk of recidivism, no history of violence, and played minor roles in tracking operations.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa backed October bill proposing to cut nonviolent drug offenders’ sentences. “With almost half of the 195,809 federally sentenced individuals in the Bureau of Prisons serving time for drug trafficking offenses, it is critical to ask why. We have passed initial drug sentence legislation, but it really comes down to reducing mandatory minimum penalties and granting judges greater discretion for drug offenses,” Grassley said.

The legislation proposed next week will be grounded in analysis of the Task Force’s finding of the characteristics and sentencing lengths as correlated to prison population growth.

The Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections was developed by Congress in response to the decades of federal prison population growth, to create data-driven policy. Additional information pertaining to this research and data visualizations can be found here, as produced by Urban Institute.  

Study co-authors include Samuel Taxy and Cybele Kotonias, researchers at the Urban Institute.

This project was supported by grant no. 2014-ZR-BX-K001 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Contact:

 Scarlet Neath

Communications Department

sneath@vera.org

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