Drug abuse takes a toll on society that can only be partially measured. While we are able to estimate the number of drug-related crimes that occur each year, we can never determine fully the extent to which the quality of life in America’s neighborhoods has been diminished by drug-related criminal behavior. With the exception of drug-related homicides, which have declined in recent years, drug-related crime is continuing at a strong and steady pace.
Numerous Drug-Related Arrests Occur Each Year. In 1994, state and local law enforcement agencies made an estimated 1.14 million arrests for drug law violations. The largest percentage of these arrests were for drug possession (75.1 percent).45
Arrestees Frequently Test Positive for Recent Drug Use. The National Institute of Justice Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program calculates the percentage of arrested individuals whose urine indicates drug use. In 1995, DUF data collected from male arrestees in twenty-three cities showed that the percentage testing positive for any drug ranged from 51 percent to 83 percent. Female arrestees ranged from 41 percent to 84 percent. Among males, arrestees charged with drug possession or sale were most likely to test positive for drug use. Among females, arrestees charged with prostitution, drug possession or sale were most likely to test positive for drug use. Both males and females arrested for robbery, burglary, and stealing vehicles had high positive rates.46
Drug Offenders Crowd the Nation’s Prisons and Jails. At midyear 1996, there were 93,167 inmates in federal prisons, 1,019,281 in state prisons, and 518,492 in jails.47 In 1994, 59.5 percent of federal prisoners were drug offenders48 as were 22.3 percent of the inmates in state prisons.49 The increase in drug offenders accounts for nearly three quarters of the total growth in federal prison inmates since 1980. Most drug offenders are imprisoned for possessing more drugs than possibly could be consumed by one individual distributing drugs or committing serious crimes related to drug sales. In 1995, for example, only 4,040 people were sentenced in federal courts for marijuana-related charges; 89.1 percent of those offenders were facing trafficking charges.50
Inmates in Federal and State Prisons were often under the Influence of Drugs when they Committed Offenses. A 1991 survey of federal and state prisons, found that drug offenders, burglars, and robbers in state prisons were the most likely to report being under the influence of drugs while committing crimes. Inmates in state prisons who had been convicted of homicide, assault, and public order offenses were least likely to report being under the influence of drugs. With the exception of burglars, federal prison inmates were less likely than state inmates to have committed offenses under the influence of drugs.51
Offenders Often Commit Offenses to Support Drug Habits. According to a 1991 joint survey of federal and state prison inmates, an estimated 10 percent of federal prisoners and 17 percent of state prisoners reported committing offenses in order to pay for drugs.52
Drug Trafficking Generates Violent Crime. Trafficking in illicit drugs is often associated with violent crime. Reasons for this relationship include competition for drug markets and customers, disputes among individuals involved with illegal drugs, and the location of drug markets in disadvantaged areas where legal and social controls against violence tend to be ineffective. The proliferation of lethal weapons in recent years has also made drug violence more deadly.
Drug-Related Homicides Have Declined. There was a steady decline in drug-related homicide between 1989 and 1995. The Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) indicated that of 21,597 homicides committed in 1995 in which the circumstances of the crime were known, 1,010 (or 4.7 percent) involved drugs. This figure was significantly lower than 7.4 percent in 1989.53
Money Laundering Harms Financial Institutions. Money laundering involves disguising financial assets so they can be used without the illegal activity that produced them being detected. Money laundering provides financial fuel not only for drug dealers but for terrorists, arms dealers, and other criminals who operate and expand criminal enterprises. Drug trafficking generates tens of billions of dollars a year; the total amount of money involved cannot be calculated precisely. In September 1996, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimated that 60 percent of the money laundering cases it investigated during that fiscal year were drug-related.54