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New Findings: Decline in Black Incarceration for Drug Offenses   :)


Dear Friend,

For the first time in 25 years, since the inception of the "war on drugs," the number of African Americans incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses has declined substantially, according to a study released today by The Sentencing Project. It finds a 21.6% drop in the number of blacks incarcerated for a drug offense, a decline of 31,000 people during the period 1999-2005.  The study, The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs   :)

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also documents a corresponding rise in the number of whites in
state prison for a drug offense, an increase of 42.6% during this time frame, or
more than 21,000 people. The number of Latinos incarcerated for state drug
offenses was virtually unchanged.
The study notes that the black declines in incarceration
represent "the end result of 50 state law enforcement and sentencing systems"
which need to be examined individually. But overall, the decline in blacks
incarcerated for a drug offense follows upon declining arrest and conviction
rates for blacks as well. The study suggests much of the disparity resulting
from the drug war has been a function of police targeting of open-air drug
markets. As crack use and sales have declined, or moved indoors in some cases,
law enforcement activity may have been reduced correspondingly.
Because of the rising number of whites in prison for a drug offense, the overall
number of persons serving state prison time for a drug offense remained at a
record 250,000 during the study period. The white increase may be related in
part to more aggressive enforcement of methamphetamine laws, according to the
study. While methamphetamine is only used at significant levels in a relative
handful of states, data from states such as Iowa and Minnesota show a
substantial influx of these cases during this time period.
analysis by The Sentencing Project also documented a sharp contrast between
state and federal prison populations. While the number of persons in state
prisons for a drug offense rose by less than 1% during the study period, the
increase in federal prisons was more than 32%. These latter changes are
attributed to ongoing aggressive enforcement of drug laws, including application
of harsh mandatory sentencing policies. Despite declines in the use of crack
cocaine, federal prosecution and incarceration levels for crack offenses remain
high and have a stark racially disparate impact.
In reviewing the
study's findings, Mauer noted that despite the new trend, African Americans are
still imprisoned at more than six times the rate of whites for all offenses.
Moreover, high incarceration rates for low-level drug offenses remain a function
of the largely punitive approach to drug abuse that has proven expensive and
Today's study is
based on an analysis of government data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics,
FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services.  Click here

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to read The Sentencing
Project's report, The Changing Racial Dynamics
of the War on Drugs.

-The Sentencing Project

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