The fact that African-Americans are over-represented among the incarcerated is not breaking news to those who follow the trends in our community. In fact, Black males are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than for whites, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
But the Obama administration is on a mission to make people aware of the policy changes that are taking place to turn the tide.
During a press briefing with reporters, officials with the Office of National Drug Control Policy stressed the connection between drug use and the criminal justice population.
Ben Tucker, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy puts the problem into perspective saying, “Over half of state and federal inmates used drugs during the month preceding the offense corresponding to their sentences. He added, "African-Americans and Hispanics consistently have higher proportions of inmates in state prison who are drug offenders compared to whites.”
The strain on local, state and federal budgets is starting to take a toll on districts already strapped for cash. Tucker said, “The costs of managing these populations have grown significantly. Between 1988 and 2009, state corrections spending increased from $12 billion to more than $50 billion per year.”
The administration has stepped away from the so-called War on Drugs strategy of the 1980s, opting instead to focus on reforming sentencing laws, and emphasizing treatment programs in accordance with a more balanced approach that treats drug use as more of an illness than a crime.
Dr. Redonna Chandler, chief of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said, “We know that treatment is necessary to stop repeat offenders and recidivism. Research shows that by effectively treating addiction, we have to get at underlying causes and understand the impact drugs have on the brain. Lengthy incarceration terms and boot camps and the like have not been effective because they don’t treat the problems.”
Another reform includes the Fair Sentencing Act, which went into effect last year, reducing sentences for crack cocaine offenses which disproportionately affect minorities. In addition, the administration supports expanding drug courts, which officials believe divert about 120,000 people a year into treatment instead of prison.
But often drug addiction and incarceration are followed by new barriers as people attempt to re-enter society after their release. The administration implemented the Second Chance Act, which includes funding to help connect people with housing, employment and treatment programs they’ll need.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said, “We want reentry to be successful as people go back to their communities.”
The Office of National Drug Control Policy completed a listening tour with administration officials and Black leaders to get ideas for dealing with the drug epidemic and the high rates of incarceration that continue to plague our community.
(Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)