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DRUG POLICY



Sentencing policies brought about by the "war on drugs" resulted in a dramatic growth in incarceration for drug offenses. At the Federal level, prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge comprise half of the prison population, while the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980. Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.

The Sentencing Project works actively to reform the federal mandatory penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses to make them more equitable and fair. To become involved visit our crack reform page.

Number of People in Prisons and Jails for Drug Offenses, 1980 and 2011

Drug Policy News
December 19, 2014
State Advocacy Update: Addressing Racially Disparate Criminal Justice Policies and More

Approaches to Address Racial Disparity

Local Policy Interventions

Advocating to Fund Effective Alternatives


December 17, 2014 (Los Angeles Times)
Obama commutes sentences of eight prisoners convicted on drug charges

President Obama commuted the sentences Wednesday of eight prisoners serving lengthy terms for drug charges, but it was only a fraction of the 6,561 who applied for his help.

In January, the Justice Department announced an ambitious program to recruit lawyers to help drug offenders seek presidential clemency after being jailed under harsh sentencing laws. The move was in line with Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s push to reduce the U.S. prison population, particularly among African Americans serving disproportionally longer sentences for crack cocaine possession.


December 9, 2014
The Sentencing Project Submits Recommendations to D.C.’s Mayor-Elect

Following her election as Washington, D.C.’s new mayor, Muriel Bowser has sought public input on important issues facing the District. The Sentencing Project submitted four recommendations for juvenile justice reform:

  • Make aggregate juvenile arrest data available and transparent;
  • Limit the use of arrest for low-level offenses;
  • Prioritize evidence-based programs, and not incarceration, for delinquent youth; and
  • Keep juveniles out of the adult system.

The full testimony can be read here.


December 9, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Statement by The Sentencing Project for Senate Hearing on the State of Human and Civil Rights

The Sentencing Project submitted a statement today for inclusion in the record of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on “The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States.”  

We commend Chairman Dick Durbin for continuing his examination of the policies and practices that contribute to excessive imprisonment and racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system. In this written statement, we seek to bring attention to the causes of mass incarceration and racial injustice, the failures of mandatory minimum penalties, and the deeply problematic policy of felony disenfranchisement.


December 3, 2014
Race and Justice News

Policing: African Americans Experience Disproportionate Police Contact Across U.S.

Marijuana Reforms: Will Decriminialization and Legalization End Racially Disparate Enforcement?

State Punitiveness: Black Population Size Predicts State Punitiveness

Legislative Reforms: Crack Sentencing and the Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits