CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, May 19, 2008

Reports Find Racial Gap in Drug Arrests

Racial_disparaties_graph More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.

Two new reports, issued Monday by the Sentencing Project in Washington and by Human Rights Watch in New York, both say the racial disparities reflect, in large part, an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on drug use in low-income urban areas, with arrests and incarceration the main weapon.

But they note that the murderous crack-related urban violence of the 1980s, which spawned the war on drugs, has largely subsided, reducing the rationale for a strategy that has sowed mistrust in the justice system among many blacks.

In 2006, according to federal data, drug-related arrests climbed to 1.89 million, up from 1.85 million in 2005 and 581,000 in 1980.

More than four in five of the arrests were for possession of banned substances, rather than for their sale or manufacture. Four in 10 of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession, according to the latest F.B.I. data. [Mark Godsey]

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African Americans, Latinos and other minorities are obviously suffering more under our current drug policy. Politicians want to applaud themselves for a number of arrests rather than see real change in communities through drug treatment programs. Being "tough on crime" means throwing addicts in prison where they will only continue to use drugs and spiral further down the hole. This needs to change.

Posted by: joe | May 20, 2008 7:41:38 AM

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