How Pols Misstate The Facts On Drug Offenders In U.S. Prisons


Politicians have made statements this year reflecting a basic misunderstanding of the data on prison populations, says the Washington Post Fact Checker. “It's not a sound bite story,” said Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman. “The more extreme and specific a sound bite is, the more likely it is to be wrong.” The Post focuses on President Obama’s saying “we’ve…locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before,” Carly Fiorina’s remark that “two-third of the people in prison are there for nonviolent offenses, mostly drug-related,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) “we are imprisoning…young people who are smoking marijuana,” and Hillary Clinton’s citing a “huge population in our prisons for nonviolent, low-level offenses that are primarily due to marijuana.”

Public Policy Prof. Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University says, “The proportion of prison inmates who were drug law violators has been pretty nearly flat at 20 percent since 1990.” In 2014, there were 1.56 million inmates in federal and state prisons. More than 50 percent were convicted of violent offenses, while only 15.7 percent were incarcerated on drug charges. Just 3.6 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons were incarcerated for drug possession. In the Fact Checker’s rating scale, Obama gets one Pinocchio, Fiorina gets two, Sanders gets three and Clinton four for her “simply laughable” statement.

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