The number of Blacks serving time for drug offenses has dropped significantly in recent years, while the number of Whites in jail for drugs has increased steadily, according to a report released by the Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based organization.
According to the report, the number of Blacks behind bars in state prisons for drugs dropped 22 percent, from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005. During the same period, the number of Whites in jail for drug offenses rose about 43 percent, from around 50,000 to over 72,000. The rate of Latinos imprisoned for drugs – about 51,000 – stayed the same.
While the nation’s prison system still has a disproportionate Black population – Blacks only make up 12 percent of the U.S. population yet 45 percent of the prison drug offender population as of 2005 – these numbers could be showing a change in a decades-long trend that saw the Black prison population quickly outpacing their White counterparts.
There could be several reasons for the drop. More and more courts are looking to drug courts as an alternative to prison; and police are cracking down on methamphetamine use, a drug used mostly by Whites, the report states.
The Sentencing Project used numbers from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics from 1999 to 2005, when the body stopped breaking down the state prison population by race.