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Drug Trade Fuels Federal Prison Population

Nearly half of all inmates in federal prison were convicted of drug-related offenses, and most inmates are young, minority men, according to the latest research of incarcerated federal offenders from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The Illegal drug trade accounts for 48 percent of the offenses that land people in federal prison, followed by gun-related crime, at 19 percent, the commission reported. However, the impact of gun-related crime is more pronounced when considering that nearly a quarter of all inmates possessed a firearm or other weapon in connection with the offenses that landed them in prison.

An array of other crimes make up the remainder, all accounting for 8 percent or less of the total, including immigration (8 percent), pornography and prostitution (7 percent), fraud (5.8 percent), and robbery (3 percent).

Men make up 93 percent of the federal prison population. The average age is 41 years old, and just one in five offenders is 50 or older. Just under 35 percent of the total inmate population is Hispanic and a similar share – 34.5 percent – is black. Whites make up 27 percent of the total, and the remainder are other races.

A little over 21 percent of offenders are non-citizens, according to the report. Almost a third – 31.7 percent – had no prior criminal history before their convictions. And a large majority – 88.6 percent – pleaded guilty rather than go to trial.

Half of all federal prisoners last year were serving more than 10 years, and 56.4 percent were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. However, 22.5 percent of those offenders were not subject to a mandatory minimum sentence because they either provided the government with valuable assistance in prosecuting others or were eligible under a statutory safety valve provision, or a combination of both.

There were nearly 189,000 inmates in federal prisons in 2017.  The USSC research represents a snapshot of the federal prison population in February 2017 and is the most recent conducted by the commission on the prison population.

Related Topics: U.S. Sentencing Commission