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The federal prison population and drug crimes


New Jersey residents may have heard about legislative calls for reductions in mandatory minimums in federal prison for drug crimes. The current federal prison population makeup is telling and points to good reasons for system reforms.

The total prison population is almost 200,000 people, and more than half of them are incarcerated for drug offenses. Of those inmates, 35 percent had no prior incarceration periods and minimal criminal records at the time of their sentencing. Between 1980 and 2012, the federal prison population exploded, growing by 800 percent. More than 75 percent of the inmates who are imprisoned for drugs are people of color, while over 50 percent of drug offenders in federal prison are there for cocaine-related offenses.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed a criminal justice reform bill that could help by reducing a number of minimum mandatory sentences. At the same time, the Justice Department is working to reform sentencing guidelines so that judges will be allowed to have more choices in sentencing. The data demonstrates a clear need for such reform efforts as thousands of people are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

People facing federal drug charges may face a long period of incarceration if they are convicted. Those who are charged may thus want to seek help from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who has experience with defending against drug crimes allegations may be better able to identify problems with the prosecution's case. Counsel could in some cases challenge the admissibility of evidence that was gathered in an unconstitutional manner. A drug crime defense is often highly technical and may necessitate the use of experts and investigators.

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