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Q: Drug conspiracy law prisoner numbers ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Drug conspiracy law prisoner numbers
Category: Reference, Education and News > Current Events
Asked by: pomple-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 20 Oct 2003 05:30 PDT
Expires: 19 Nov 2003 04:30 PST
Question ID: 267870
According to US drug laws, people can be convicted of a conspiracy to
sell or traffic in illegal drugs just for playing any kind of a role
(no matter how small) in a drug crime. All it takes to convict someone
as part of the conspiracy is 2 witnesses to say that he or she was
involved. Because of deals cut with prosecutors, there are thousands
of people in jail who were fingered by 2 participants in a drug crime
(cousins, girlfriends, kids on the street) who were not found with any
drugs, drug money, or any evidence whatsoever. But how many exactly?
Or approximately? So the precise question is: how many criminals are
serving time (or have served time) due to that kind of conviction?
Here's one good source to learn more about the laws:

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 20 Oct 2003 06:53 PDT
I can get you part way to an answer.

There are pretty good statistics available on the number of people
arrested in the course of a year for conspiracy in illegal drug
activities, and of those, the number who are prosecuted and convicted.

The data should give you a good overview of the role of conspiracy
charges in overall drug-related prosecutions.

However, I haven't found data on the total prison population of those
in jail chiefly due to to the type of conspiracy convictions you asked

Let me know if you'd like me to post this information as an answer to
your question.


Clarification of Question by pomple-ga on 22 Oct 2003 19:32 PDT
That would be great. But can you make sure to specify whether this is
all the cases in the us or just federal? And it would be great if you
could give me something on sentencing -- to have an idea of whether
most of these fall under mandatory minimums or whatever.
Subject: Re: Drug conspiracy law prisoner numbers
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 24 Oct 2003 16:49 PDT
Hello pomple-ga, and thank you for a fascinating question.

There is a vast sea of statistical information on the people moving
through our judicial system including data on:

--number of arrests, convictions and jail sentences; 

--types of crimes committed; 

--federal vs state data; 

and many other ways of slicing and dicing the data.

The numbers don't always get presented in exactly the manner you might
like to answer a specific question -- such as the number of people in
jail due to drug conspiracy charges -- but they do come close.

The most comprehensive data available are federal statistics, and
these are the numbers you would want to focus on anyway, since the
drug conspiracy laws in question are federal laws that are generally
invoked only in federal prosecutions.

The most comprehensive source of information on drug conspiracy crimes
is this report form the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice

Federal Drug Offenders, 1999
with Trends 1984-99

which can be found at:

I have excerpted a good deal of data from the report below (with my
own comments provided in brackets).  I've also included links to other
reports that might be of interest to you.

In the answer to come, I'll be throwing a lot of numbers at you.  If
anything in the answer is unclear -- or if you would like additional
information -- just let me know by posting a Request for
Clarification, and I'll be happy to assist you further.



[In 1999, more than 38,000 people were investigated for drug-related
crimes; 25% of these were investigated on charges of "conspiracy"]

During 1999, 38,288 persons suspected of possible drug offenses were
referred to U.S. attorneys by Federal law enforcement agencies for
prosecution...Most of these suspects were investigated for drug
trafficking offenses, 2% for simple possession, and less than 1% for
other drug offenses.

Of those investigated for drug trafficking offenses, 72% were
investigated for a general drug trafficking or importation offense;
25%, for participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy; 1%, for
establishing or operating a drug manufacturing operation; 1%, for
trafficking drugs to persons under 21 or to pregnant women or near
schools or playgrounds; and less than 1%, with a continuing criminal
enterprise offense.


[Not all cases investigated led to actual prosecution.  For conspiracy
cases, a large number of cases were dropped (perhaps after making a
deal to testify against someone -- the data don't tell that particular
tale) -- only about one-third of the conspiracy cases were moved
forward for prosecution]

Table 1. Suspects investigated in matters evaluated for prosecution by
U.S. attorneys, by statutory offense, 1999

All drug offenses........38,288 suspects....22,388 referred for
--Conspiracy only.........9,443 suspects.....3,488 referred for

Prosecutorial decisions

During 1999, U.S. attorneys chose to prosecute 84% of suspects
referred for drug offenses.  Few (1%) of those suspects investigated
for operating a manufacturing operation or trafficking near protected
locations were subsequently declined for prosecution by U.S. attorneys
(figure 2).  Matters involving suspects investigated solely for being
part of a drug conspiracy were among those most likely to be declined.

[According to Table 2 of the report, of the 9,433 "conspiracy only"
cases, 36% were for cocaine powder, 15% for crack cocaine, 19% for
marijuana, and 19% for methamphetamine.]


[According to Table 5, "Table 5. Defendants adjudicated in U.S.
district courts for a drug offense, 1999", about 10% of those charged
with a drug crime are not convicted; only 5% of those charged actually
go to trial.  The great majority of cases -- about 85% -- are plea


[The amount of prison time served for different crimes is detailed in
Table 6, "Prison sentence imposed on defendants convicted of a drug
offense in U.S. district courts, by statutory offense, 1999". 
Conspiracy-related sentences were pretty stiff.]

[All drug-related offenses -- 25,184 defendants were convicted overall
-- 88.8% sentenced to prison time, with an average sentence of 74.0

[Of those, 5,427 were conspiracy defendants -- 90.3% sentenced to
prison time, average sentence of 89.5 months.]


[The number of prisoners in Federal prisons for drug crimes is
detailed in Table 9, "Drug offenders in Federal prisons, by role in
the offense and primary drug involved, 1997"...there isn't a count of
"conspiracy" prisoners, but the statistics allow some boundaries to be
drawn around the numbers]

[51,055 prisoners were in Federal prisons in 1999 on drug convictions.
 53% were convicted for dealing or importing drugs;  14% convicted for

[26% (13,274) of the drug convictions were for "other" charges that
are not specified in the survey...this category would seem to include
the "conspiracy" convictions]


There are a few other documents that might be of interest to you. 
They do not have specific information about conspiracy charges, but
they do show the relationships between drug crimes and other types of
crime, and between federal and state handling of criminal offenses.

The first is a DOJ Fact Sheet, "Drugs and Crime Facts", which can be
found here:

It includes a great deal of general statistics on arrests,
convictions, and prison sentences for all crimes in both Federal and
State systems, and provides links to sources of even more detailed

Of particular interest might be this statistic:

"During 1981 drug defendants accounted for less than a fifth of all
Federal prosecutions. During 2000, however, drug defendants accounted
for 37% of Federal prosecutions. Between 1981 and 2000 the number of
suspects prosecuted for drug offenses increased 7% annually, on
average, from 8,077 to 28,381."


Another document to note is the DOJ report on "Federal Criminal Case
Processing, 2001", which can be found here:

and may be of particular interest since it contains relatively
up-to-date statistics.

This report provides Federal data on all types of crimes, including,
of course, drug crimes, but not specific to conspiracy crimes.   I
found one of the summary presentations particularly interesting:

Federal criminal case processing, October 1, 2000 -September 30, 2001

Suspects investigated..............121,818
Suspects arrested..................118,896
Defendants prosecuted...............82,614
Offenders convicted.................68,533
Offenders sentenced to prison.......51,057
Criminal appeals filed..............11,281


Like I said...a lot of numbers!  I hope I've managed to present them
in a way that is meaningful and answers your question.  But if
anything is not clear, just give me a holler.


search strategy:  I went directly to the DOJ Bureau of Statistics site
to look around for appropriate statistics, both by searching the site
for "conspiracy" and just by looking at likely reports of interest.

Also conducted a Google search on:  "drug crime" conspiracy.

P.S.  By the way, I've also been looking into your labor organizing
question, which I found to be very interesting, but haven't had any
luck in digging up the right type of data yet.  Just wanted to let you
know that it's not being ignored, but I'm beginning to wonder if
anyone will be able to answer it.
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