More than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime

Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

Contrary to the claims in Michelle Alexander’s 2010 bestseller The New Jim Crow, drug prohibition is not driving incarceration rates, Rafael A. Mangual explains:

Yes, about half of federal prisoners are in on drug charges; but federal inmates constitute only 12 percent of all American prisoners — the vast majority are in state facilities. Those incarcerated primarily for drug offenses constitute less than 15 percent of state prisoners. Four times as many state inmates are behind bars for one of five very serious crimes: murder (14.2 percent), rape or sexual assault (12.8 percent), robbery (13.1 percent), aggravated or simple assault (10.5 percent), and burglary (9.4 percent). The terms served for state prisoners incarcerated primarily on drug charges typically aren’t that long, either. One in five state drug offenders serves less than six months in prison, and nearly half (45 percent) of drug offenders serve less than one year.

That a prisoner is categorized as a drug offender, moreover, does not mean that he is nonviolent or otherwise law-abiding. Most criminal cases are disposed of through plea bargains, and, given that charges often get downgraded or dropped as part of plea negotiations, an inmate’s conviction record will usually understate the crimes he committed. The claim that drug offenders are nonviolent and pose zero threat to the public if they’re put back on the street is also undermined by a striking fact: more than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime. It’s worth noting that Baltimore police identified 118 homicide suspects in 2017, and 70 percent had been previously arrested on drug charges.

Not only are most prisoners doing time for serious, often violent, offenses; they’ve usually received (and blown) the second chance that so many reformers say they deserve. Justice Department studies from 2000 through 2009 reveal that only about 40 percent of state felony convictions result in a prison sentence. A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study of violent felons convicted over a 12-year period in America’s 75 largest counties shows that 56 percent of the offenders had a prior conviction record.

Even though most state prisoners are serious and serial offenders, nearly 40 percent of inmates serve less than a year in prison, with the median time served about 16 months. Lengthy sentences tend to be reserved for the most serious violent crimes — but even 20 percent of convicted murderers and nearly 60 percent of those convicted for rape or sexual assault serve less than five years of their sentences.


  1. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    Of course, the idea of institutionalized imprisonment is itself a modern invention. The Panopticon was designed by arch-whig Jeremy Bentham himself. Eastern State Penitentiary was literally built and operated by the quakers.

    Everything you need to know about the ideology at work behind it is right there in the name: penitentiary. The modern industrial prison system as we know it today was founded on the idea that the criminal is just as much an innocent victim as their victims themselves, and that it was possible to reshape the infinitely malleable human clay they are composed of into more SWPL form, thus serving their immortal souls which are no less in value to your own.

    We will not dwell on that topic much more than to point a single finger at the 200+ years and counting of empirical failure, catastrophe, and calamity, as such men possessed of such notions dash their ships of state against the rocks of a recalcitrant universe.

    In more civilized times of course, the dispensations of justice were swift, efficient, and zero overhead. Ranging in anything from social humiliations, like public stockades or canings, to indenture, to exile, to capital execution. It is not a coincidence that gnostic subversives were most keen on the elimination of both capital punishments, and also humiliating punishments that attack the subject’s social status, because these are also the most effective forms of justice against subversive elements just such as themselves.

  2. Jim says:

    On Pseudo-Chrysostom’s headstone epitaph will read “State Power Was His Aphrodisiac”.

  3. VXXC says:

    Pseudo-Chrysostom is right, the penal system and frankly 18th/century laws must return.

    Complete with return of proper outlaws:
    An outlaw was outside the law and had no recourse, he could be killed on sight with no legality involved.

    This was the case well into the 19th century in America and goes back to the Romans.

  4. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    Plea-bargaining has over the years spread to becoming the de facto default for handing cases, since of course this is a hack around the fact that the ‘official’ pathways for the judicial process have undergone so much mutation via partisan subversions of merely written procedures for accomplishment of tactical goals over the years that the system ‘on the books’ is totally unusable by anyone for any purpose. In essence, a lawyer has failed if his case actually goes through the legal system.

    Wherever it may be a product of instinctual maladaption, or epistemological blindness, or intentional malfeasance, or some combinations thereof, presently regnant underlords are in any case of course not displeased by this state of affairs, with their ‘processes’ being catastrophically ‘broken’, kafkaesque hells of fractal wrongness, since it means they can use the process itself as punishment. ‘Allegations’, ‘under investigation’, ‘claims’, ‘is accused of’, these arise like clouds of bloodsucking flies out of the swamp, which a scientific observer might curiously note how native swamp-creatures are passed by as if they were invisible, while they swarm like biblical plagues around any creatures of red-blooded vitality that dare step foot into the morass.

    There is nothing that gets done except by personal connection between overlapping dunbar’s numbers of cadre, only whether it is explicit, or occulted. That is no less true in 9th century feudalism as it is in 20th century managerialism; and in many ways perhaps, even more so.

    Indeed, making sure things *don’t* happen could be said to be the effective purpose of bureaucratic inflation; a mandelbrot set of layers of checkreigns, overseeing bodies, steering committees, verification processes, and validating criteria, all to ensure that nothing bad happens; which of course, serves to ensure nothing happens, tout court. The only people thinking ‘the process’ is how you are supposed to get things done are the losers and marks who don’t get the joke.

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