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Number of people jailed for drugs triples in a decade

SHARE Number of people jailed for drugs triples in a decade

SAN FRANCISCO — The number of drug offenders in many state prisons tripled from 1986 to 1996, even when adjusting for population growth, according to a report issued Thursday.

The study by the liberal think tank Justice Policy Institute also said that the number of blacks jailed on drug charges had quintupled during the 10-year period.

The study relied on statistics from the Justice Department, Census Bureau and the National Corrections Reporting Program. The stats looked at 37 states from 1986 to 1996, which the report called "the most punishing decade in our nation's history."

Franklin Zimring, a criminal justice expert and University of California-Berkeley law professor, said the numbers were not new.

"It's a compilation of statistics that have been carefully culled," he said. "But still, what the statistics show is astonishing."

From 1985 to 1993, Zimring said, the prison population exploded in "a simple response to enormous political pressures and a politics-induced moral panic in the United States."

The study — funded in part by financier George Soros' Open Society Institute — endorses two state ballot initiatives aimed at sending many drug offenders to rehabilitation and diversion programs instead of prison. Soros is also financing the initiatives, which California and Massachusetts voters will decide in November.

While the study appeared critical of America's drug policy over the last few years, the White House Office of Drug Control Policy said the study's points were in line with drug czar Barry McCaffrey's goals.

"The institute may be talking in terms of imprisonment, but over the same period of time, drug use has gone down and crime is at an all-time low," said McCaffrey spokesman Bob Weiner.

WEB SITE: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs