Incarceration on Drug Offenses

Incarceration on Drug Offenses

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Spring 2000). "Incarceration on Drug Offenses." Alaska Justice Forum 17(1): 6. Since the mid-1980s, the "war on drugs" has led to an enormous increase in both the numbers and percentages of inmates in the federal correctional system incarcerated primarily for drug offenses. There has been less of a proportional increase in similar imprisonments in the Alaska state system. This article presents figures for Alaska and nationwide federal prison populations for offenders convicted of drug crimes.

The "war on drugs" has led to an enormous increase in both the numbers and percentages of inmates in the federal system incarcerated primarily for drug offenses (Table 1), but to less of a proportional increase in similar imprisonments in the Alaska state system.

The inmate population sentenced for drug offenses is now almost 60 per cent of the total federal inmate population. Between 1985 and 1998 the number of federal inmates sentenced for drug charges grew by nearly 500 per cent.

Table 1. Federal Prisoners Sentenced for Drug Offenses, 1980-1998

Figure 1. Federal Prison Population Sentenced for Drug and Non-Drug Offenses, 1970-1998

The Alaska Department of Corrections does not show such a precipitous rise in the numbers or percentages of inmates sentenced primarily for drug offenses.

In December 1985, out of the total inmate population of 2124 reported in the corrections data base, 105, or 5 per cent, were sentenced on a drug-related offense as the primary offense (Table 2). (Corrections became a separate state department in 1984; before then it was a division within Health and Human Services. The data base from which these figures were taken was put in place in late 1983.) By the end of 1999, the total DOC inmate population, including that in community residential centers, was 4077. Of these, 247—6.1 per cent— had a controlled substance charge as the primary charge. (These figures do not include those imprisoned on a parole or probation violation which was itself a drug offense, so they are undoubtedly somewhat low.) While the percentage of prisoners in the Alaska system on drug charges has grown only slightly, the actual number has increased by more than 135 per cent, paralleling the climb in the overall DOC population.

Table 2. Alaska Department of Corrections: Inmates with Drug Offense as Primary Offense