PrawfsBlawg (a law blog) looks at some numbers:
…Consider the following thought experiment. What would US prison populations in 2009 look like if in 1980 we released all 23,900 prisoners serving time for drug offenses (the 19,000 state prisoners plus 4,900 federal drug inmates) and proceeded to admit no prisoners for drug crimes in the subsequent years? Instead of rising 3.8-fold, it would have risen 3-fold. A difference, but not an enormous one. (I’ll show my work for these numbers shortly in a future post.)
In other words, we would have had our unprecedentedly vertiginous prison population even without the increase in drug incarcerations. Liberate all drug offenders from our prisons and jails, and our global rank would, at best, drop all the way to… number 2. Maybe number 3. Slightly less punitive than Russia, maybe Cuba.