Upon entering the new millennium, our nation has endured the most punishing years in our people's history. More people began a prison or a jail term in the United States in the last 20 years than any other decades on record. There are now over two million incarcerated in the country often called "The Land of the Free."
It is no secret that punitive drug laws fuel this terrible rush to imprisonment. By studying drug law convictions over the past twenty years, researchers have produced alarming figures. The number of people sent to jail or prison for drug law violations increased more than tenfold. One in four prisoners in the United States is serving time for a drug law violation. In the federal system, these people make up 55% of the prison population.
Prison punishment increased dramatically with laws in the mid 1980's -- laws that created Mandatory Minimum sentencing, the US Sentencing Guidelines, and abolished parole. Today the Sentencing Guidelines are advisory, but those sentenced before 2004 were not granted retroactive sentencing relief.