The myth of over-incarceration

2016 could be a banner year for drug dealers. If the “sentencing reform” tag team of Mike Lee and Dick Durbin gets its way, and it very well might, thousands of drug dealers will be let out of prison and tens of thousands will be facing shorter sentences if apprehended and convicted.

Behind the push for leniency is the notion that America — aka “incarceration nation” — has sinned. We are told, based findings by the International Centre for Prison Studies (“the Centre”), that the U. S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners.

We are led to believe that blacks are victims of the criminal justice system in large part because, thanks to the war on drugs, our prisons are overflowing with low-level drug offenders, a disproportionate number of whom are African-American. The left, including our President, the mainstream media, and others who love to cast our country in a bad light mindlessly parrot this theme.

But are these claims rooted in fact? Not according to a paper by Michael Rushford, President & CEO of the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (via Crime and Consequences).

The statistical claim that we house nearly 25 percent of world prisoners is bogus, as one would expect from an outfit like the Centre that is funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. In America, we report our prison population honestly and include folks who spend a few days in the country lock-up (data that often is unavailable from other countries, according to Rushford). Does anyone imagine that nations like China (with its 1.3 billion population), North Korea, and Iran report their prison numbers honestly?

As for the composition of U.S. prisoners, Rushford points out that drug offenders are in the minority, and the vast majority of such offenders were convicted of dealing.

87 percent of U.S. prisoners are in state prisons. According to the Department of Justice, 54 percent of state inmates are serving sentences for violent crimes; 19 percent for property crimes; and only 16 percent for drug offenses. Almost all inmates, particularly property and drug offenders, received a plea bargain, meaning they agreed to plead guilty to lesser crimes than they actually committed, again according to Rushford.

In federal prisons, nearly half the inmates (48.3 percent) are drug offenders. But, as noted, federal jails hold only 13 percent of U.S. prisoners. Rushford points to a study by the Urban Institute which found that 99.5 percent of drug offenders in federal prisons are dealers.

As for the race of drug offenders in federal prison, it depends on the drug they were dealing. 88 percent of the crack cocaine dealers are black; 54 percent of the powder cocaine dealers are Latino; and 48 percent of the methamphetamine dealers are white.

Here’s to diversity.

There is no dispute that blacks make up a highly disproportionate number of U.S. prisoners. But, as Rushford shows, this is because they commit a highly disproportionate number of crimes:

[W]hile blacks make up roughly 13% of the U. S. population, DOJ statistics indicate that they accounted for 52.5% of homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008. The offending rate for blacks was almost eight times higher than whites, and the victim rate was six times higher. Most homicides were intraracial, with 84% of white victims killed by whites, and 93% of black victims killed by blacks.

Thus, if we abolished all drug laws and began prosecuting only killers, the expected population of U.S. prisons would be 52.5 percent black. That’s considerably higher than the current black percentage, which is slightly below 40 percent. ( Jim Scanlan, call your office).

Most conservatives and centrists understand intuitively that clemency, early release, and shorter sentences for drug dealers are bad ideas. To sell these ideas to sensible Americans, proponents of sentencing reform resort to mythology — most notably the myth of over-incarceration. In doing so, they slander our country.

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