U.S. Department of Justice: An Analysis of Non-violent Drug Offenders with Minimal Criminal Histories

Office of the U.S. Deputy Attorney General, 1994

Recent years have been marked by dramatic increases in the Federal prison population and in the number of Federal defendants sentenced for drug law violations. This report takes as its focus drug offenders with a minimal or no prior criminal history whose offense did not involve sophisticated criminal activity and whose offense behavior was not violent. We refer to this person as a “low-level” drug offender. This shorthand is adopted for purposes of convenience and not to suggest any policy conclusions or assessments about the seriousness or harm resulting from drug offenses. The purpose of the analysis is to gain a more solid foundation of knowledge to inform criminal justice policy decisions.

The study started with a group of offenders selected from computerized records used by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Bureau of Prisons. A sample was identified on the basis of automated information about prior convictions, violence in the current offense, and level of sophistication of the instant offense. However, once the sample was identified, more in-depth record searches (including paper records with considerably more detail and National Crime Information Center records) disclosed more specific information about criminal histories as well as the functional role individual offenders played in their offenses.

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