Contact: Dale Gieringer, Drug Policy Forum of California
(510) 540-1066

Drug Prisoners Account for California Prison Crowding

With California under court order to release 30,000 prisoners, it is noteworthy that the state maintained 24,959 prisoners for inherently non-violent drug offenses, according to the most recent statistics from the Department of Corrections (Dec. 31, 2010).

California's prison overcrowding can thus be largely attributed to the drug laws, a modern innovation that did not exist prior to the 20th century.

A total of 8,587 inmates were being held for specifically for simple possession of a controlled substance. Another 1,401 were being held for marijuana-specific felonies. The remaining balance were being held for sales, manufacture or distribution of other controlled substances.

A bill to reduce the number of marijuana prisoners is currently in the state assembly: AB 1017, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would reduce cultivation penalties from a mandatory felony to a wobbler, or alternate misdemeanor.

There are signs that the high tide of drug prohibition may be waning. Drug offenders currently account for 15% of all inmates in state prison, a substantial reduction from the all-time high of 28% in 1999, the year before California approved Prop. 36, which mandated treatment instead of prison for minor possession offenders. Since then, the number of drug prisoners has continued to decline, dropping by fully 20% in the two years since 2008.

Drug reformers are hopeful that further criminal justice reforms will reduce the burden of inherently non-violent drug offenses.

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