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With opiate addiction surging in the United States, it should come as no surprise that drug offenses are the leading cause of federal incarceration among America’s youth. Although top-down reforms are slowly changing the way we deal with addiction, young people in America remain especially vulnerable to criminal prosecution for substance abuse and the recreational use of drugs.
Drug Conviction Statistics
According to a 2017 report conducted by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), 36.1% of federal inmates under the age of 25 were imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses. Between 2010 and 2015, approximately 86,309 young people were sentenced to time in federal prison for drug-related crimes. The overwhelming majority (86 percent) of those convicted were male, and over half of them (57.8%) were Hispanic. Despite efforts to reform the criminal justice system for nonviolent offenders, the number of drug crime convictions has surged over the past seven years, after declining significantly from its peak at the turn of the century.
Drug convictions carry long-lasting consequences. A young adult who spends time in prison is likely to experience profound difficulties in finding employment, maintaining relationships, and making ends meet. There is also a high risk of recidivism: due to strict parole and probation policies, someone who has been in prison is more likely to return to prison. Young people who have been convicted of drug offenses stand to earn 10 to 30% less than their peers, and these income disparities can last a lifetime.
Changes Brought On By The Opioid Epidemic
The opioid epidemic has brought addiction out into the open. Drug addiction is no longer a problem confined to America’s inner cities: it affects our grandparents, our children, and our family and friends. Anyone who has been prescribed painkillers for an injury is at risk of becoming an addict, and addicts run the risk of incarceration.
A prime reason for the high rate of incarceration among America’s youth is due to young people who are either unable to afford or elect not to seek legal protection. A drug conviction does not need to end in incarceration. As prison reform continues to garner bipartisan support, more and more options exist to either mitigate or completely eliminate punishments for nonviolent drug offenders. Counseling and drug treatment are gaining recognition as more viable options for addressing the root causes of drug crimes without excessive and destructive prison-based punishments.
Seeking Legal Counsel
If you are a young person who has been accused of a nonviolent drug offense, an experienced attorney can mean the difference between prison time and freedom. A good lawyer can frame your case as a substance abuse issue, and not as a crime. The draconian policy of locking up drug offenders and throwing away the key is slowly becoming a thing of the past, but the high rate of incarceration among America’s youth tells us that we have a long way to go. If you are a young person looking at a drug charge, the courtroom is not the place to take your chances. By seeking legal counsel, you can ensure that you receive the help you need and avoid the sort of punishment that carries long-lasting consequences.
Laurence Banville. Esq is a leading sponsor of TheProductLawyers.com. Laurence is licensed to practice law in the state of New York. Originally from Ireland, Banville moved to the United States of America where he worked at law firms, refining his litigation and brief writing crafts. He is also the recipient of the Irish Legal 100 and the Top 40 Under 40 awards.