FEDERAL DRUG LAW CHANGES
LED TO LONGER PRISON SENTENCES
WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 38,200 people were referred to federal prosecutors for alleged drug offenses during 1999, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. About 84 percent of these suspects were subsequently charged in a U.S. district court.
Of the 38,288 suspects federal law enforcement agencies sent to U.S. attorneys, 31 percent were involved with marijuana, 28 percent cocaine powder, 15 percent crack cocaine, 15 percent methamphetamine, 7 percent opiates and 3 percent other drugs, the BJS report said.
Comparing 1984 and 1999, the number of drug defendants increased from 11,854 to 29,306. During this period drug prosecutions increased from 18 percent of the criminal caseload in 1984 to 32 percent in 1999.
Sixty-five percent of those charged with a drug offense during 1999 had been arrested
previously–28 percent had five or more prior arrests.
Almost 90 percent of drug defendants charged were convicted. Most (95 percent) of those convicted pleaded guilty to at least one of the offenses charged. Ninety-one percent of those convicted were convicted of drug trafficking. Only 4 percent were convicted of simple possession of drugs.
Sixty-two percent of the convicted drug offenders were subject to a statutory minimum prison sentence–29 percent to 60 months or less, 30 percent to 61 to 120 months and 3 percent to
121 months or more, including life sentences.
Based on a survey of federal prison inmates, 16 percent of the incarcerated drug offenders reported being an importer, grower or manufacturer of illegal drugs, 25 percent said they had distributed drugs to street dealers.
Twenty-eight percent of the convicted drug defendants received a reduced sentence for providing substantial assistance to prosecutors. Additionally, 21 percent received a reduced sentence because they were identified as a first-time, non-violent drug offender.
Changes in federal statutes during the 1980s and 1990s have had a substantial effect on the processing of defendants convicted in federal courts – especially drug law offenders. All federal offenders sentenced to a prison term are now required to serve at least 87 percent of the
sentence imposed, and many drug offenders are subject to minimum terms of imprisonment
based on the type and quantity of the drug involved.
Between 1986 and 1999, prison terms imposed on drug offenders increased from an average of 62 months to 74 months. The average term drug offenders entering prison could expect to serve rose from an average 30 months to 66 months.
During 1999 the longest prison terms were imposed on drug offenders involved with crack cocaine (114 months), drug offenders who possessed firearms (133 months) and drug defendants with extensive prior records (125 months).
The report, “Federal Drug Offenders, 1999, with Trends 1984-99" (NCJ-187285), was
written by BJS statistician John Scalia. Single copies may be obtained from the BJS
clearinghouse number: 1-800-732-3277. Fax orders for mail delivery to 410/792-4358.
After the release date this report will be available at:
The BJS Internet site is:
Additional criminal justice materials can be obtained from the Office of Justice Programs
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After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354