White privilege: Blacks incarcerated for drugs at disproportionate rates

Ok, that headline is not news. But the Justice Policy Institute has further advanced the argument that drug laws disproportionately affect African-Americans with a report (pdf) that was released on Tuesday.

Black Americans are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned for illegal drug offenses than whites, even though both groups use and sell drugs at the same rate, according to a study released on Tuesday.

Almost all large counties in the United States showed sharp disparities along racial lines in the sentencing of drug offenders, the study by the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute showed.

Pulling out the data for Pennsylvania shows some shocking numbers. Here are the ratios of blacks-to-whites in admission to state prison for drug offenses among the PA counties that were in the report:

WESTMORELAND- 66-to-1
CHESTER- 44
LUZERNE- 40
BUCKS- 29
ALLEGHENY- 27
MONTGOMERY- 27
YORK- 24
ERIE- 23
DAUPHIN- 21
DELAWARE- 17
LANCASTER- 13
LEHIGH- 13
NORTHAMPTON- 12
BERKS- 5
PHILADELPHIA- 2

Some local officials swear they don’t treat drug offenders differently on the basis of race.

Both York County First Assistant District Attorney Bill Graff and York County Chief Public Defender Bruce Blocher said many local drug cases involve minority offenders.

However, the attorneys said, they have not seen disparities in how defendants are treated.

“I can’t think of a time I’ve ever raised the issue of race in sentencing,” said Blocher, who’s been the county’s chief public defender since 1996.

Graff cited an example of a white drug dealer convicted of selling drugs to college students. He said he pushed for the man to serve the same amount of time as someone who sold drugs on a street corner.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re dealing drugs, we’re going to arrest and prosecute you,” Graff said.

Remember that one time!

Actually, the issue goes beyond what’s going on at the sentencing level. It starts sooner. Who’s coming into contact with the police? How are the police doing drug enforcement in cities? Suburbs? Rural areas? On college campuses? How are parole officers handling violators?

National ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project webpage is filled with great stats on drugs and race.

Andy in Harrisburg