According to data from both the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, an astounding 1.5 million people -- or roughly one in 35 people -- were behind bars here in the U.S. as recently as 2013.
In light of the high costs associated with maintaining such large prison populations, officials in many states have recently been exploring ways in which to reduce recidivism and, by extension, the collateral consequences that can accompany convictions.
To that end, many have recently performed something of an about-face when it comes to their blanket bans on access to public assistance, allowing those previously convicted of drug crimes to have access to benefits like food stamps and welfare in the hopes that it will provide them with a more solid foundation and better odds of success upon their release.
Back in 1996, Congress overhauled the federal welfare programs and, due to an amendment introduced by then Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), made it so that anyone convicted of drug-related offenses at either the state or federal level were automatically barred from ever accessing federal benefits.
While the law allowed the individual states to pass exemptions allowing access to federal welfare programs, very few actually did so.
Fast forward to 2015, however, and 27 states have now passed exemptions making it easier for those convicted of drug-related offenses to secure welfare, perhaps conditioning eligibility upon mandatory drug tests or excluding those convicted of more serious offenses. Similarly, at least 18 states have improved access to food stamps.
All of this naturally begs the question as to whether access to these types of public assistance actually improves an ex-offender's chances on the outside.
While there is admittedly a dearth of material on this topic, at least one influential 2013 study by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine found that an shocking 90 percent of all recently released prisoners were lacking reliable access to food.
It's encouraging to see the states taking a more progressive approach toward helping former prisoners. Here's hoping these efforts prove successful. In the meantime, those facing drug charges at the state or federal level should give serious consideration to speaking with an experienced legal professional.
The Law Offices of Mark L. Horowitz, P.A. understands all that is at stake in drug crime cases and will do everything possible to protect your freedom and your future.