by David Evans I worked in the New Jersey criminal justice system for years, setting up programs for addicts and alcoholics. Prison programs for addiction do not work as well as programs outside prison. There’s too much game playing to get out sooner. Instead, we set up a program so that inmates would be released and had their parole date but had to spend the last month or so in a residential treatment program. It worked better. You never know what will work with somebody.
Drug legalization advocates claim that prisons are overflowing with people convicted for only simple possession of marijuana. This claim is aggressively pushed by groups seeking to relax or abolish marijuana laws.
Plea Bargains Distort the Picture
The standard practice in drug cases is for the offender to be given the opportunity to plead guilty in exchange for lighter punishment thus sparing the taxpayers the expense and risk of a trial. If the offender is only charged with one crime, the prosecutor will typically offer a shorter sentence to a lesser charge. If the offender has multiple charges, the common practice is to dismiss one charge in exchange for a guilty plea to another lesser charge, especially if the government feels the offender can provide valuable assistance to law enforcement by providing information on drug trafficking.
Drug legalization advocates claim that nearly one-third of all federal drug defendants are charged with marijuana offenses. [FN2] However, only a tiny percentage of that number are actually convicted for marijuana possession. [FN3] There are a number of circumstances under which a simple possession marijuana offender might receive a sentence to prison. For example, if:
1. the marijuana offense was committed while the offender was on probation or parole;
2. an offender charged with a more serious crime pleads guilty to the lesser offense of marijuana possession but as part of a plea bargain is required to serve a prison sentence;
3. the offender has a criminal history, particularly one involving drugs or violent crime;
4. the violation took place in a designated drug-free zone (such as on school property); or
5. the marijuana sentence runs concurrent with the sentence for one or more of the offenses.
www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov; Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997,” BJS Special Report, January 1999, NCJ 172871; Unpublished BJS estimates based on the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, National Archive of Criminal Justice Data; Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, April 2003, NCJ 198877; Prisoners in 2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2003, NCJ 200248; Who’s Really in Prison for Marijuana?, Office of National Drug Control Policy, www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov
[FN3] US Sentencing Commission’s 2001 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics; Who’s Really in Prison for Marijuana?, Office of National Drug Control Policy, www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov