Posted Dec. 12, 2007 - Whites and Blacks may use illegal drugs at virtually the same rate, but African Americans are 10 times more likely to go to prison for drug-related crimes, according to a new study that shows just how stark the racial divide is when it comes to locking up offenders.
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In fact, says the study by the Justice Policy Institute, 97 percent of the nation’s largest counties – 193 of 198 jurisdictions – imprisoned Blacks at a higher rate that Whites.
And the poorer, Blacker and bluer (meaning those with larger police forces and judicial budgets) the county, the more likely they are to lock up drug offenders, says “The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties.”
The researchers say that the study is the first to examine the relationships between race, poverty and judicial structures and the specific annual rate at which people are admitted to prison for drug offenses; it is purportedly also the first to localize the racially disparate impact of drug imprisonment at the county level.
“The exponential removal of people of color who have substance abuse problems from their communities and into prisons undermines and destabilizes neighborhoods – it does not make them safer,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Drug addiction doesn’t discriminate but our drug policies do.” Among the major findings: Of the 175,000 people admitted to prison nationwide in 2002, more than half were African American, even though Blacks comprise fewer than 13 percent of the U.S. population; there is no relationship between the rates at which people are sent to prison for drug offenses and the rates at which people use drugs in counties.
For example, although Rockingham County, N.H., has a larger percent of its population reporting illicit drug use, Jefferson Parish, La., sent more people to prison for a drug offense at a rate 36 times that of Rockingham.
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