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Drug and Immigration Offenses Dominate Court Cases and Prisons

The latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that drug and immigration offenses constitute a large proportion of the cases processed in the criminal justice system, along with a rising number of immigration cases. 

Starting with the latest numbers from the series "Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2006" we find that between 1994 and 2006 drug cases constituted the largest proportion of felony cases, ranging from 34% to 37%.  During the same period the proportion of violent felonies dropped from 27% to 23%.  Public order offenses increased from 7% to 11%, while property offenses went from 29% to 31% of the total. 

What is also interesting is that the proportion of defendants aged 40 and over increased from a mere 10% of the total in 1994 to 26% in 2006.  Also, a growing number of defendants had prior felonies on their record, going from 55% to 64%. 

Not surprising, 95% of the cases were settled by a guilty plea.  Of those ultimately convicted, almost three-fourths (73%) were sentenced to either a state prison or local jail.  This shows a continuing trend of increasing incarceration, as the 1994 report shows that two-thirds were sentenced to either prison or jail. 

A report on federal court sentencing shows similar patterns with regard to drug offenses.  In 2007 about one-third (32.3%) of all cases were drug offenses.  Incidentally, typical of the recent trend cracking down on immigration, one-fifth of all cases involved immigration offenses.  Another report shows that of all the offenders arrested by U.S. Marshals between 2006 and 2007, 35% were for immigration offenses.  Another report shows that between 1995 and 2005 the proportion of arrests by U.S. Marshals for immigration offenses more than doubled, going from 12.7% to 27.3%.  

In the federal prison system, between October, 2006 and September, 2007, more than half (54%) of those admitted to prison were drug offenders, while 12% were immigration offenders.

In state prisons, the proportion whose most serious charge was a drug offense was 20% at the end of 2006.  This report shows that the proportion of drug offenses among blacks was 23%, while for Hispanics it was 22%.  For whites the percentage was only 15.  

Regarding immigration offenses, a recent survey shows that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency detains about 400,000 immigrants around the country (at a cost of $1.7 billion during the current fiscal year) and that about 80% of these are held in facilities far away from urban areas and their families.  This makes it extremely difficult for most of them to obtain legal counsel.  Most of these facilities, by the way, are privately operated.  (The report was published by Chicago-based National Immigration Justice Center; for details about the private prison industry's involvement see this report)  

Keywords: adult corrections, crime trends, immigration, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Drug Policy

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