I suppose the fact that fewer black men are in jail for drug related offenses is cause of celebration, but I honestly can't parse this story and draw any real conclusion. Can you?
For the first time since crack cocaine sparked a war on drugs 20 years ago, the number of black Americans in state prisons for drug offenses has fallen sharply, while the number of white prisoners convicted for drug crimes has increased, according to a report released today.Maybe there's hope for Montrell Holmes after all.
The D.C.-based Sentencing Project reported that the number of black inmates in state prisons for drug offenses had fallen from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, a 21 percent decline. Over the same period, the number of white drug offenders rose steadily, from 50,000 to more than 72,000, a 42 percent increase. The number of Latino drug offenders was virtually unchanged at about 51,000.
The findings represent a significant shift in the racial makeup of those incarcerated for drugs and could signal a gradual change in the demographics of the nation's prison population 2 million, which has been disproportionately black for decades. Drug offenders make up about a quarter of the overall prison population.
The Sentencing Project report and other experts said the numbers could reflect two factors: an increased reliance by prosecutors and judges on prison alternatives such as drug courts, and a shift in police focus to methamphetamines, which are used and distributed mostly by white Americans.
African American drug offenders, who have been convicted most often for dealing and possessing crack cocaine, still made up a disproportionate share of the total, 44 percent in 2005. That was down from nearly 58 percent six years earlier, but still represented a disproportionate share, because black Americans make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population.
The number of white state drug offenders rose from 20 percent to 29 percent, and Latino prisoners made up 20 percent of inmates.
Twenty percent of white inmates used methamphetamines in the month before they were arrested, compared with 1 percent of black inmates, according to interviews conducted in the nation's 14,500 state prisons and 3,700 federal prisons.
The war on drugs began in 1986, when Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to combat violence associated with the crack cocaine trade. Lawmakers were prompted by the death of University of Maryland basketball player Len Bias, who they mistakenly believed had died from ingesting crack. Bias overdosed on powder cocaine.
Last year, then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) joined several of his colleagues in saying his support of the legislation was a mistake. As a result of the law, more than a half-million people have been incarcerated for drug offenses in state and federal prison, a massive increase from the 40,000 who were jailed for the same offenses in 1980.
According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics last year, 7.2 million people are under prison supervision, as inmates, parolees and probationers, at a cost of about $45 billion per year.
Question: How do you interpret these findings? Is this is good thing, or merely proof that The War On Drugs was a crock from the beginning?
Number of Black Americans in State Prisons for Drug Offenses Declines [WashPost]