Myth No. 2: Low-level drug offenders drive prison population growth. It is popular, perhaps almost mandatory, to blame the boom on the War on Drugs. But it is just not true. Only 20 percent of inmates in prisons (as opposed to jails) are locked up for drug offenses, compared with 50 percent for violent crimes and 20 percent for property offenses; most of the drug offenders are in prison for distribution, not possession. Twenty percent is admittedly much larger than approximately 3 percent, which was the fraction of prisoners serving time on drug charges in the 1970s. But if we were to release every prisoner currently serving time for a drug charge, our prison population would drop only from 1.6 million to 1.3 million. That's not much of a decline, compared with the total number of people in prison in the 1970s—about 300,000.
32. According to the US Justice Department, in federal prisons, "While the number of offenders in each major offense category increased [from 1995 to 2003], the number incarcerated for a drug offense accounted for the largest percentage of the total growth (49%), followed by public-order offenders (38%).
33. According to the US Justice Department, between 1990 and 2000 "Overall, the percentage of violent Federal inmates declined from 17% to 10%. While the number of offenders in each major offense category increased, the number incarcerated for a drug offense accounted for the largest percentage of the total growth (59%), followed by public-order offenders (32%).
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