Ezra posted the following statistics in his Wonkbook, with a nod to Dylan Matthews and Brad Plumer for digging them up:
- The U.S. prison population is more than 2.4 million.
- That’s more than quadrupled since 1980.
- That means more than one out of every 100 American adults is behind bars.
- About 14 percent of the prison population is in federal prison — that’s the group Holder is talking about.
- The single largest driver in the increase in the federal prison population since 1998 is longer sentences for drug offenders.
- The average inmate in minimum-security federal prison costs $21,000 each year. The average inmate in maximum-security federal prisons costs $33,000 each year.
- Federal prison costs are expected to rise to 30 percent of the Department of Justice’s budget by 2020 .
- Sens. Dick Durbin, Pat Leahy, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul have all endorsed legislation to give federal judges more flexibility when sentencing non-violent offenders. Holder backs the bill, too.
- The most serious charge against 51 percent of those inmates is a drug offense. Only four percent are in for robbery and only one percent are in for homicide.
- The most serious charge against 20 percent of state-prison inmates is a drug offense. That’s much lower than the 51 percent in federal prisons, though it’s still larger than any other single category of offense in state prisons.
- At least 17 states are currently experimenting with Holder-like reforms.
He also linked to this TPM chart:
As Dylan Matthews notes in this WaPo article:
Focusing on drug offenses is a smart way to go about reducing the federal incarceration rate. According to data in Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?, a new book by UC – Berkeley’s Steven Raphael and UCLA’s Michael Stoll, the most serious charge for 51 percent of federal inmates in 2010 was a drug offense. By comparison, homicide was the most serious charge for only 1 percent, and robbery was the most serious charge against 4 percent.
Tougher drug sentencing accounts for much of the increase in the incarceration rate. “If you go back and decompose what caused growth in the federal prison system since 1984, a large chunk can be explained by drug offenses, around 45 percent,” Raphael says. The other big category accounting for the federal increase is weapons charges, such as the five-year mandatory minimum faced by drug offenders caught with guns. Raphael estimates that that accounts for 18 to 19 percent of the increase.