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May 5, 2008

Two potent new reports on race and the drug war

As detailed in this news article, "two studies published today conclude that the battle has been pitched largely in African American communities and that African Americans bear a disproportionate brunt of its collateral damage."  The two new studies come from The Sentencing Project and from Human Rights Watch.

The Sentencing Project report, titled "Geography: The War on Drugs in America's Cities," is available at this link.  The Human Rights Watch report, titled "Targeting Blacks Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States," is available at this link.  These excerpts from the conclusion of the HRW report reminds me why I find it disappointing and shameful that these issues are overlooked in the media/political frenzy surrounding a presidential campaign that is supposedly all about race:

The racial disparities in incarceration generated by drug control strategies raise deeply troubling questions.  Why are white drug users and sellers comparatively free of arrest and incarceration for their illegal activity?  Why has the United States continued to address illicit drugs primarily with a punitive criminal justice approach, including harsh prison sentences?  Why has the country been willing to impose the burden of incarceration for drug offenses primarily on those who by virtue of race and poverty are already among the most marginalized in society and the most politically powerless?

We cannot answer those questions. But we do know that the racial disparities we have documented in this report violate fundamental principles of justice and equal protection of the law. They undermine faith among all races and ethnic groups in the fairness and efficacy of the US criminal justice system. They are particularly intolerable because incarceration has such grave implications for the offenders' lives and those of their families and communities.

It is difficult to overstate the harshness of a prison sentence and its enduring consequences. Prisons are tense, overcrowded, dangerous, and barren places in which it may be difficult to maintain one’s emotional equilibrium and self-respect, much less turn a life around....

The United States can and must devise ways to make its drug control policies less destructive to black communities in general, and black males in particular.  There is no justification for levying the burdens of incarceration and its aftermath disproportionately on black drug offenders.  The statistics presented in this report reflect the persistent failure of the United States to ensure that its efforts to reduce illicit drug use and sales are conducted within a framework of respect for human rights.

Some related posts:

UPDATE:  Here is coverage of the two reports from the New York Times and from Reuters.

May 5, 2008 at 09:37 PM | Permalink


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What is new about this and why don't they talk about the racial disparities for other charges such as robbery?
In Iowa prisons the Black disparities for drug trafficking and robbery are 11 and 24 respectively.

Posted by: John Neff | May 6, 2008 12:48:33 PM

More of the same blather from the Sentencing Project and Human Rights watch. For an incisive and unbiased analysis of the high percentage of blacks behind bars, I recommend Heather McDonald's piece in the Spring 2008 issue of City Journal.

Posted by: | May 6, 2008 2:24:29 PM

The reason Hillary will not be coerced to address this problem is that she is the heart of the problem. White politicians afraid of being called a "liberal" or African American lovers (usually the epithet is substituted here) respond to these charges by getting "tough on crime". Voting for tough crime legislation is kind of like a polio vaccine. Obama can not lead the charge because the rednecks will just rejoin that he is just another Sharpton trying to get the brothers out of jail. So, this has to wait until Obama is in office and the "change" has been endorsed.

In the meantime we need some experts (relying on those with the data) to write a sociological account of all those self interested politicians-- going at least as far back as Rockefeller--who are tough on crime so that they can advance in political office and get paid well by the government and "paid off" well by the lobbyists and industry. This needs to start with an account of our expense of incarceration. The expense includes both the money spent to incarcerate and the expenses associated with the training grounds for criminality which the prisons provide. One could then gravitate to the hypocrites in Congress like Mark Foley from Florida-- the guy who championed the computer porn crime bills and then got exposed (no pun intended) for hitting on the under-age male Congressional pages.
This issue is big but the public is barely aware of it. We need a white Vice President who will lead the campaign to reform federal laws and federal subsidies to states so as to undo all this "liberal" damage.
I am contemptuous of anyone who pulls the "Willy Horton" card and suspicious of anyone who seeks to open the door to it. Calling out the presidential candidates to talk shop on this difficult topic merely gives McCain the wedge issue he needs to rally all the rednecks around his flag.
The next thing we will see is a virtual image of Obama riding around in a tank with a silly helmet on his head.

Posted by: M.P.B. | May 7, 2008 9:11:03 AM

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