Quick Facts

Facts image

Prison Size and Growth

Prison Costs

Drug Offenders

Length of Incarceration and Lack of Alternatives

Application and Impact of Mandatory Minimums

Public Safety

Public Opinion


 

 

 Prison Size and Growth

Since Congress created mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes in the 1980s, the federal prison population has grown from 24,000 prisoners to over 214,000 prisoners – the largest prison system in the country.
(Federal Bureau of Prisons)

The United States has more people behind bars – 2.3 million – than any other country in the world.
(International Centre for Prison Studies)

One in every 100 Americans is in prison or jail.
(The Pew Center on the States)

Sentences for both nonviolent and violent crimes have grown at roughly the same rate, costing taxpayers billions:  prisoners released in 2009 served sentences that were, on average, 36 percent longer than those of offenders released in 1990.
(The Pew Center on the States)

 Over 2.7 million children have a parent behind bars in the U.S.
(The Pew Charitable Trusts)

Between 1991 and midyear 2007, parents held in state and federal prisons increased by 79% (357,300 parents), and children of incarcerated parents increased by 80% (761,000 children).
(Bureau of Justice Statistics)

The federal prison system is overcrowded by almost 40 percent.
(Testimony of Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons)

There is no parole in the federal criminal justice system – all federal prisoners are required to serve at least 85% of their sentences.
(Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Pub. L. 98-473)

75,579 (39.4%) of the 191,757 offenders in BOP custody as of September 30, 2010, were subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System)

 

Prison Costs 

The federal prison system consumes over 25 percent of the entire Department of Justice budget. Prison costs are eating up money that could be spent on police and protecting the public from violent offenders.
(Statement of Michael E. Horowitz, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice)

On average, it costs almost $29,000 to keep one person in federal prison for one year.
(78 FR 16711)

State spending on corrections has grown 300 percent in the last 20 years.
(The Pew Center on the States)

Taxpayers spend over $50 billion annually for state prisons.
(National Association of State Budget Officers)

 

Drug Offenders 

Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving prison sentences for drugs.
(Federal Bureau of Prisons)

In 2012, drug offenders made up about one third of the federal criminal case load.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Figure A)

In 2012 alone, over 23,000 people were sent to federal prison for a drug offense.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 12)

Each year, about 60 percent of all federal drug offenders are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 43)

In 2012, almost 7,000 people were convicted in federal courts for marijuana offenses, more than for any other type of drug.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 33)

In 2012, over half of all convicted federal drug offenders have little or no criminal record.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 37)

In 2012, only 15 percent of all federal drug offenders had a weapon involved in the offense.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 39)

In 2012, only 6.6 percent of all federal drug offenders were considered leaders of a drug conspiracy.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 40)

About one in every five state prisoners is serving time for a drug offense.
(Bureau of Justice Statistics)

 

Length of Incarceration and Lack of Alternatives 

The average federal prison sentence is 9.5 years.
(Testimony of Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons)

In 2012, the average federal prison sentence for a drug offender was almost 6 years.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 13)

In 2012, the average federal prison sentence for a crack cocaine offender is about 8 years.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Figure J)

In 2012, the average federal prison sentence for a methamphetamine offender is over 7.5 years.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Figure J)

In 2012, 90 percent of all federal offenders received a sentence of imprisonment; only 10 percent received probation or home confinement.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Figure D)

In 2012, 96.5 percent of all federal drug offenders received prison sentences.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 12)

Drug Courts produce cost savings ranging from $3,000 to $13,000 per client. These cost savings reflect reduced prison costs, reduced revolving-door arrests and trials, and reduced victimization.
(National Association of Drug Court Professionals)

Nationwide, for every $1.00 invested in Drug Court, taxpayers save as much as $3.36 in avoided criminal justice costs alone.
(National Association of Drug Court Professionals)

Nationwide, 75% of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program.
(National Association of Drug Court Professionals)

 

Application and Impact of Mandatory Minimums 

In 2012, 23 percent of federal drug offenders faced a mandatory minimum but did not receive it because they provided “substantial assistance” to the prosecution, commonly known as snitching.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 44)

In 2012, 23.8 percent of federal drug offenders faced a mandatory minimum but did not receive it because they qualified for the drug “safety valve” for nonviolent, low-level, first-time offenders.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 44)

In 2010, 10,694 individuals were sentenced to mandatory minimums in federal courts, including:

  • 7,212 for drug offenses
  • 2,222 for gun offenses
  • 805 for child pornography offenses
  • 673 for identity theft offenses
  • 322 for sex abuse offenses.

This total – 10,694 individuals – represents 14.5 percent of all federal offenders sentenced in FY 2010.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System)

Hispanic offenders also account for the largest group of offenders (38.3%, n=7,601) convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. Blacks are the next largest group, at 31.5 percent (n=6,261), followed by White offenders (27.4%, n=5,447) and Other Race offenders (2.7%, n=543). United States citizens account for 73.6 percent (n=14,639) of those offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. More than 90 percent (90.3%, n=17,975) of the offenders were men.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System)

Almost 32% of people receiving a mandatory minimum sentence had little or no criminal record.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System)

Hispanic offenders benefit most often from the safety valve; Black offenders benefit least often.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System)

Mandatory minimum sentences may actually motivate people to go to trial. According to the Commission, 94.1% of those convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum pled guilty, while 97.5% of the offenders not facing a mandatory minimum pled guilty. The Commission also found that “the longer the mandatory minimum penalty an offender faces, the less likely he or she is to plead guilty.”
(U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System)

United States citizens accounted for 73.6 percent of all offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.
(U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System)

 

Public safety 

All 17 states that cut their imprisonment rates over the past decade also experienced a decline in crime rates.
(Pew Center on the States)

 

Public opinion 

84% of Americans believe that some of the money that we are spending on locking up low-risk, non-violent inmates should be shifted to strengthening community corrections programs like probation and parole.
(Pew Center on the States)

Voters think, on average, that about a fifth of prisoners could be released without posing a threat to public safety.
(Pew Center on the States)

62% strongly favor sending fewer low-risk, non-violent offenders to prison in order to keep violent criminals in prison for their full sentence.
(Pew Center on the States)

59% strongly favor sending fewer low-risk, non-violent offenders to prison and re-investing in alternatives to incarceration.
(Pew Center on the States)

88% agreed that “We have too many low-risk, nonviolent offenders in prison. We need alternatives to incarceration that cost less and save our expensive prison space for violent and career criminals.”
(Pew Center on the States)

87% agreed that “Prisons are a government program, and just like any other government program they need to be put to the cost-benefit test to make sure taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.”
(Pew Center on the States)

77% of Americans support eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders.
(Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey)