Skip to navigation

Sentencing Reform Leads to Decrease in Crime

Brian J Smith Dec. 17, 2014

By now most of us are familiar with the term “war on drugs.” This national effort for a drug free society has been going on for almost a century, but was first popularized by President Nixon in 1971. Since then, four presidents have made it their personal mission to continue waging the war on drugs. It has become increasing clear that these efforts have only been successful in causing massive overcrowding in both federal and state prisons.

Drug war stats

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. has 5 percent of the worlds population, and 25 percent of the worlds prison population. One of the main reasons for this overwhelming statistic can be attributed to the war on drugs. The war focused on all drug offenders and touted longer and harsher sentences even for those who were non-violent first time offenders. This crack down on non-violent offenses had staggering consequences.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of Oct. 2014, close to 50 percent of federal inmates are there for drug offenses. The majority of these offenders are locked up for marijuana violations. In 2012, 88 percent of those arrested for marijuana violations, were locked up for possession only. This comes as the national collective viewpoint on marijuana has relaxed, with 23 states and D.C. allowing use of medical marijuana and 4 states allowing recreational marijuana use.

A necessary change

Some states have begun to realize that current drug offense procedure, along with sentencing requirements, are to blame for the massive uptick in prison population and spending. These states have decided to reform sentencing policy in an effort to not only reduce population and recidivism, but crime rates as well. Four states have currently enacted measures to reform policies in regards to non-violent crimes. California, New York, New Jersey and most notably Texas have all made changes to their policies.

What changes have been made?

From 2006 to 2012, by reducing enforcement and punishment for non-violent offenses, California was able to reduce their population by 23 percent. A 2011 ruling, mandated California take further action to reduce overcrowding, leading to a transfer of many non-violent offenders from state prisons to county jails.

During the period of 1999 through 2012, while the national prison population rate was rising steadily, New York and New Jersey were able to shrink theirs. Like California, both of these states reformed their policies on enforcement and punishment of non-violent crimes and parole in an effort to combat overcrowding. This led to a 26 percent decrease in prison population for both states during that time period.

Texas, a state known for being notoriously tough on crime, was incarcerating people so rapidly, they would have needed $523 million to keep up with growing prison population. In 2007, members of congress decided to reform the way they enforced and sentenced non-violent drug offenders. They began focusing on funding rehabilitation programs rather than more prisons. They began in and out-patient treatment and substance abuse programs for offenders. They also enacted sentencing alternatives such as holding centers for parole violators and treatment centers for mentally-ill offenders.

Changes come with added benefits

These policy reforms have not only had a large impact on the reduction of prison population, but other benefits as well. After reform, California saw a 21 percent drop in violent crime coupled with a 13 percent drop in property crime. New York reported a 31 percent decrease in violent crime and New Jersey saw a 30 percent decrease in crime.

Texas saw a 7 percent decrease just 2 years after reforms were implemented. Texas has also reported that it’s rehabilitation programs have led to employment for two-thirds of parolees. These numbers are indicative that past policies have been ineffective, and different strategies for dealing with non-violent offenders are more successful.

It may be a long time before all states follow suit. If you or someone you know find yourself in need of a drug lawyer in Las Vegas, call Brian J. Smith. With over 15 years of experience with drug charges is committed to achieving justice for all clients.