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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Julie L. Jones

Florida Department of Corrections
Julie L. Jones, Secretary

For Immediate Release
November 26, 2001
For More Information
Contact: Public Affairs Office
(850) 488-0420

Are Harmless Drug Users
Taking Up Valuable Prison Beds?

Whenever the subject of allocating prison space and resources arise, there is inevitably a statement made to the effect that Florida should stop using costly prison space to incarcerate offenders for "minor" drug crimes, such as marijuana use. Are thousands of harmless marijuana users taking up valuable prison beds that could be used by more violent offenders?

A joint study by the Florida Department of Corrections' Bureau of Research and Data Analysis and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Statistical Analysis Center indicates that these offenders are neither harmless nor numerous. In fact, on May 31, 2001, there were only 93 (or 0.1%) inmates in the Florida prison system serving time for marijuana possession, and 42 percent of them (39) had previous arrests for violent offenses including murder, sexual battery, robbery or aggravated assault. These inmates had an average of 19 previous arrests and nine convictions. This average inmate has also been on community supervision such as probation an average of two times before being incarcerated. On average, he is male, black and 31 years old.

The records reviewed during this study include only Florida state prison convictions, so the arrests and convictions could be much higher when county jails and other states are included. Also, these figures do not include juvenile records.

The 93 inmates in Florida prison on May 31, 2001 for marijuana possession had the following characteristics:

  • Most are male (96.7%), black (54.8%), and their average age is 31, which is three years less than the average age of all inmates in prison.
  • They comprised less than one percent (0.1%) of the entire inmate population of 71,965 on May 31, 2001.
  • They had a total of 839 convictions and 1,786 prior arrests. That averages out to nine convictions each and 19.2 arrests. (Not every arrest leads to a conviction.)
  • Of those 1,786 prior arrests, only about one-fourth of them (473) were drug-related. They had a total of 367 convictions for drug related offenses for an average of 3.9 per inmate. Those crimes included 64 robberies, 85 burglaries, 53 felony assaults or batteries and 164 crimes involving theft, forgery or fraud.
  • Thirty-nine of the 93 inmates (42%) had arrests for violent offenses such as murder, sexual battery, robbery or aggravated assault. They were convicted (and served time) for a total of 126 violent offenses.
  • Thirty-five of the 93 had arrests for firearm-related crimes.
  • These 93 inmates had, on average, been on state community supervision such as probation for a felony in Florida at least two times in the past.

Are harmless marijuana smokers taking up a lot of valuable prison beds? This study indicates that there are very few inmates serving time in prison today for marijuana possession (0.1%), and those who are in prison are far from harmless. They have extensive criminal records and typically have been provided the opportunity to avoid prison through multiple supervision sentences. Notably, many of their previous convictions include violent offenses, and more than a third had arrests for firearm-related crimes.

It is important to note that the above analysis does not include the following information about the inmates studied:

  1. Prior arrests or adjudications as juveniles.
  2. Arrests and/or convictions that occurred in states other than Florida.
  3. Convictions that resulted in local jail sanctions for misdemeanors or felonies.
  4. Convictions that resulted in a prison or supervision sentence but are not contained on the database maintained by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). This occurs because the FDOC's database was created in the early 1980's and commitment records for prison and supervision commitments that occurred prior to this time were not universally entered into the department's database. There is a record of the number of times offenders were sentenced to prison prior to when the database was created, however, the details of their convicted crimes were not included at that time.

For more information, call Dr. Bill Bales at the DOC's Bureau of Research and Data Analysis at (850) 488-1801 or FDLE's Statistical Analysis Center at (850) 410-7140.

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