Racial disparity pervades
U.S. justice system
Some states send black men to prison
at rates 27 to 57 times greater than whites
A recent report by Human Rights Watch has
documented something African-Americans have known for years:
The U.S. war on illegal drugs has been waged unfairly against
blacks. The report, "Punishment and Prejudice: Racial
Disparities in the War on Drugs", includes the first
state-by-state analysis of the role of race and drugs in prison
admissions. All of the 37 states Human Rights Watch studied send
black drug offenders to prison at far higher rates than whites.
"These racial disparities are a national
scandal," said Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights
Watch. "Black and white drug offenders get radically different
treatment in the American justice system. This corrodes the American
ideal of equal justice for all."
The ten states with the greatest racial disparities
are: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio,
New Jersey, North Carolina, and West Virginia. In these states,
black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 27 to 57 times
the rate of white men.
"Most drug offenders are white. Five
times as many whites use drugs as blacks," said Jamie Fellner,
Human Rights Watch associate counsel and author of the report.
"But blacks comprise the great majority of drug offenders
sent to prison. The solution to this racial inequity is not to
incarcerate more whites, but to reduce the use of prison for
low-level drug offenders and to increase the availability of
substance abuse treatment."
Among the report's key findings:
- Nationwide, blacks comprise 62 percent of
drug offenders admitted to state prison. In seven states, blacks
constitute between 80 and 90 percent of all people sent to prison
on drug charges.
- Nationwide, black men are sent to state prison
on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.
- Two out of five blacks sent to prison are
convicted of drug offenses, compared to one in four whites.
- Black men are incarcerated at 9.6 times the
rate of white men. In eleven states, they are incarcerated at
rates that are 12 to 26 times greater than that of white men.
- Nationwide, one in every 20 black men over
the age of 18 is in prison. In five states, between one in 13
and one in 14 black men is in prison.
"Punishment and Prejudice" also documents
how drug law enforcement has fueled the exploding U.S. prison
population. During the 1990s, more than one hundred thousand
people were admitted to prison on drug charges every year. Over
1.5 million prison admissions on drug charges have occurred since
1980. The incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders has propelled
the nation's soaring incarceration rate, the highest in the western
world. Human Rights Watch calls for changes in drug control strategies
to minimize their racially disproportionate impact and to reduce
the overincarceration of nonviolent offenders.
Among its recommendations, Human Rights Watch
urges states to:
- Repeal mandatory minimum sentencing laws
for drug offenders;
- Increase the availability of alternative
- Increase the use of drug courts;
- Increase the availability of substance abuse
- Eliminate racial profiling
For complete report on-line go to: