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Prior Drug Use Stable Among State Prisoners, Rises For Federal Prisoners

by Matthew T. Clarke

In October 2006, the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice released a report on prior drug use among state and federal prisoners. The report compared the years 1997 and 2004. It showed that the percentage of state prisoners who used drugs prior to committing their crimes remained about the same while similar drug use for federal prisoners rose on all measures and, for the first time, 50% of federal prisoners reported using drugs in the month prior to committing their crimes.

In 1997, 45% of federal and 57% of state prisoners had used drugs in the month prior to their offense. 33% of state and 22% of federal prisoners were using drugs when they committed their crimes. By 2004, 50% of the federal prisoners reported using drugs in the month before their crimes while 26% reported using drugs while committing their crimes. In contrast, the state percentages for 2004 remained stable at 56% and 32%, respectively.

Prisoners with recent drug dependence prior to their crimes were also likely to have an extensive criminal history. Among state prisoners who were dependent or using drugs, 53% had at least three prior sentences to probation or incarceration, compared to 32% of other prisoners. They were also more likely (48%) to be on parole or probation at the time of their arrest compared to other prisoners (37%).

The percentage of prisoners receiving drug treatment while in prison rose among both state and federal prisoners who reported using drugs the month before committing their crimes. For state prisoners it rose from 34% to 39% between 1997 and 2004, while it rose to 45% from 39% for federal prisoners.

Some drugs continue to be race specific with white state prisoners (20%) about twice as likely as Hispanic state prisoners (12%) and about twenty times as likely as black state prisoners (1%) to report methamphetamine use in the month before the crime. Female state prisoners (17%) were about twice as likely as male state prisoners (10%) to report methamphetamine use in the month before the crime. State prisoners with violent crime convictions (6%) were less than half as likely as those with drug (19%) or property (13%) convictions to have used methamphetamines in the month preceding the crime. Similar trends occurred among federal prisoners.

Among federal prisoners, the use of drugs in the month preceding the crime increased from 1997 to 2004 by the following amounts: from 30% to 36% for marijuana use; from 7% to 10% for methamphetamine use; and from 2% to 6% for hallucinogens use. Heroin use remained stable with 3% of federal prisoners committing their crimes while on heroin both in 1997 and 2004. The use of crack cocaine in the month preceding the crime dropped from 20% to 18% from 1997 to 2004 while the number of prisoners who were high on crack when they committed the crime dropped from 9% to 7%. This was the only drug to show such a decline.

The report is available on the PLN website. Source: Drug Use and Dependence, state and Federal Prisoners, 2004.

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