Inmates not violent
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U.S. National - AP
Study: Most Drug Inmates Not Violent
Fri Sep 20,12:21 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) - Most drug offenders in state prisons are black males with no history of violence or high-level drug dealing, an interest group says.
The Sentencing Project, which advocates for alternatives to incarceration, says that just over half of these state inmates -- 58 percent, or 124,885 people -- are nonviolent offenders.
"They represent a pool of appropriate candidates for diversion to treatment programs or some other type of community-based sanctions," the authors wrote. "The 'war on drugs' has been overly punitive and costly and has diverted attention and resources from potentially more constructive approaches."
Based largely on the government's 1997 Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, issued every five years, the study found that four out of every five drug offenders in state prisons are minorities. This is more than three times the rate of minority drug use in society, according to the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.
Blacks constitute 56 percent of drug offender inmates, while Hispanics make up 23 percent of that group. Their respective proportions of all monthly drug users nationwide are 13 percent and 9 percent, the group said.
Meanwhile, three-quarters of all state drug inmates have no convictions for violence, the study said.
Todd Gaziano, who studies criminal justice as a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, criticized the study for relying on a survey that asks inmates to describe their own level of criminal activity.
And he said the Sentencing Project lumped many drug dealers together with those convicted of possession.
"Retail drug dealers may not be as culpable as international drug kingpins, but it is highly misleading to suggest that they are all merely low-level drug users who need nothing more than treatment and counseling," Gaziano said.
About 251,200 drug offenders reside in state prisons, the study says. Those inmates cost taxpayers about $5 billion every year.
Treatment versus incarceration for drug offenders is a decades-old debate mediated in some places by specially assigned drug courts that typically include drug treatment in their sentences for drug offenders.
While some advocate for alternatives to incarceration for minor drug offenders, others say the threat of incarceration has a deterrent effect.
On the Net:
The Sentencing Project: http://www.sentencingproject.org