Alcohol Crime and Drugs - More Drug Offenders Behind Bars
percent growth mandatory sentence
At all levels—local, state, and federal—the number of drug offenders in prisons and jails increased dramatically from 1980 to 1993, far outstripping the generally sharp increase in the overall prison and jail populations. During this period, the total number of state prisoners almost tripled, and the number of federal prisoners increased fourfold. This trend changed by mid-decade. From 1995 to 2001 the largest growth in state prison population was in violent offenders. The number of drug offenders in state prisons increased by 30,600 inmates (15 percent of total growth) compared to violent offenders (63 percent of total growth) from 1995 to 2001.
From 1990 to 2001 the number of drug offenders in state prisons rose substantially. (See Figure 8.4.) From 1995 to 2001, female drug offenders accounted for 13 percent of the increase in total growth of female state prisoners sentenced, compared to a 49 percent growth in female violent offenders, and 22 percent growth in female property crime offenders. In comparison, male drug offenders accounted for 15 percent of the total growth of male state prison populations, with 64 percent of the growth attributed to male violent offenders. (See Table 8.7.) From 1995 to 2001 there was an increase of 19,100 black drug offenders in state prisons, accounting for 23 percent of the total growth of sentenced black prisoners under state jurisdiction. There were 16,200 additional white drug offenders in state prison and 1,400 fewer Hispanic drug offenders.
In 2002, of 14,054 homicides, 4.7 percent were drug-related, a slight decrease from 4.8 percent in 1998 but higher than the 2001 rate of 4.1 percent. (See Table 8.8.) Of crime victims in 2002, about 10.2 percent reported that they believed the offender was using drugs, either alone or in combination with alcohol. (See Table 8.9.)
Drug Offender Sentences
Federal and state laws consider a number of factors in establishing penalties for violators of drug laws. In general, the penalties for drug violations are determined by:
- The dangerousness of the drug
- Whether the violation is for drug possession or drug trafficking
- The amount of the drug involved
- The criminal history of the offender
- The location of the transaction, such as near a school or in a crack house
- The ages of the buyer and seller
Figure 8.5 shows the mean (average) and median (half were more; half were less) lengths of prison sentences for each drug type in fiscal year 2001. The highest mean and median sentences were for crack cocaine (115 months and 95 months, respectively), followed by methamphetamine, with a mean of 88.5 months and a median sentence of 70 months. The lowest mean and median sentences (38 months and 24 months) were for the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana.
|SOURCE: "Percent of Total Growth of Sentenced Prisoners under State Jurisdiction, by Offense and Gender, 1995–2001," in Drugs and Crime Facts, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003 [Online] http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/dcf/correct.htm [accessed April 10, 2004]|
MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING.
Mandatory minimum sentences limit the sentencing discretion of the judge. While the law sets the minimum length of time to which a convicted felon can be sentenced, it does allow judges to impose sentences longer than the mandatory minimums. A first-time offender in a federal court facing a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence could receive anything from 10 years up to and including life imprisonment. For example, offenders convicted of possessing at least five grams of crack cocaine for their first conviction, three grams for their second conviction, and one gram for their third conviction are sentenced to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of 20 years.
|Year||Number of homicides||Percent drug related|
|Note: The percentages are based on data from the Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) while the totals are from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). Not all homicides in the UCR result in reports in the SHR.|
|SOURCE: "Drug-Related Homicides, 1987–2002," in Drugs and Crime Facts, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003 [Online] http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/dcf/duc.htm#to [accessed April 10, 2004]|
Many law enforcement officials think some mandatory sentences are too harsh for the crime. As a result, some prosecutors charge the accused with lesser crimes than those for which they were arrested, and some judges ignore the mandatory sentencing and apply lesser punishments. In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide on the constitutionality of mandatory sentencing as applied in two cases challenging California's Three Strikes law. In March 2003, in a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of states to imprison repeat felony offenders for lengthy sentences.
MANDATORY LIFE TERM UPHELD.
In June of 1991 the U.S. Supreme Court in Harmelin v. Michigan (501 US 957) upheld a Michigan law that imposed a mandatory life sentence without parole for possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine. Ronald Allen Harmelin's attorney argued that the mandatory sentence violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. He claimed the sentence was "grossly disproportionate" to the crime. Also, the state law did not permit the judge to use his own discretion to reduce a sentence based on other mitigating factors, such as the fact that Harmelin had no prior felony convictions.
In a sharply divided 5–4 decision, the majority declared that the Eighth Amendment does not require a sentencing judge to be given discretion to reduce a sentence. The Court ruled that "cruel and unusual" came from the English Declaration of Rights of 1689 and was intended to prevent sentences of being burned or drawn and quartered (the criminal's hands and feet were tied to horses, which then pulled the victim
to pieces). Although Harmelin's sentence was the second most severe penalty permitted by law (death is the most severe), the Court did not find it grossly inconsistent.
Driving under the Influence
In 2002, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 17,419 alcohol-related traffic fatalities. In 1982 fatalities in alcohol-related crashes comprised 57 percent of all traffic fatalities, while the number had fallen to 41 percent in 2002. From 1997 to 2002 the alcohol-related fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled had fallen from .65 to .62. Some 310,000 people were injured in crashes in which law enforcement reported that alcohol was present. The rate of alcohol-related fatal crashes was more than three times higher at night (61 percent) than during the day (18 percent). For all crashes, the rate of alcohol involvement was four times as high at night (17 percent) than during the day (4 percent). The highest intoxication rates in fatal crashes in 2000 were recorded among drivers 21 to 24 years of age (27 percent), followed by drivers 25 to 34 years of age (24 percent), and 35 to 44 years of age (22 percent).
In 1983, the peak year for DUI arrests and fatalities, 33 states allowed persons under age 21 to purchase and sell alcoholic beverages. Since then, changes in the federal laws governing the way federal highway funds are distributed caused states to raise the legal drinking age to age 21. As of the year 2000, all states and the District of Columbia had a 21-year minimum drinking age. Observers link this change to the lowered incidence of DUI arrests and fatalities.
In addition, repeat offenders are now subject to four alternative sanctioning approaches to keep them from driving drunk: automobile impoundment, ignition interlock (ignitions that will not operate if the driver's breath shows alcohol), electronically monitored house arrest, and intensive probation supervision in which counseling targets an offender's drinking habits. Social attitudes toward drinking and driving also have changed through the 1980s and 1990s. By the end of the twentieth century, driving after several drinks was considered far less socially acceptable than just a generation earlier.