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Originally published July 13 2008

Black Americans Ten Times More Likely to be Incarcerated For Drug Use Than Whites

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Black people are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses than white people in the United States, according to a study conducted by the Justice Policy Institute.

Blacks and whites use illegal drugs at approximately the same rates, yet both arrest and sentencing tends to be stricter for blacks, the study found.

Researchers examined arrest and sentencing data from 198 U.S. counties with the largest populations. Nearly all counties examined showed large racial distinctions in how drug offenders were sentenced. This data was consistent with the findings of other studies, although prior studies have not broken down their analysis by county.

The study found that out of an estimated 19.5 million illegal drug users in the United States in 2002, 1.5 million arrests were made and 175,000 people were imprisoned. Fifty percent of those imprisoned were black, although only 13 percent of the U.S. (and the U.S. drug-using) population is black.

"What you keep seeing is this towering drug admission rate for African-Americans and a very small rate for whites," said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. "In many cases, the admission rate for whites is smaller than the (percentage of whites in the) whole population."

The institute said that selective policing is partly to blame for the disparity, with police departments devoting more resources to arresting purchasers and buyers in inner-city, open-air markets rather than in the suburbs, and college campuses where fewer blacks live. In addition, research has found that probation officers tend to be more sympathetic to white offenders than to black offenders. Officers have been found to be more likely to attribute white people's crimes to their circumstances, and black people's to moral failings.

In addition, the institute noted that federal mandatory minimum sentencing rules hit blacks harder, with the same jail term being given out for possessing five grams of crack (which is disproportionately used by blacks) as 500 grams of cocaine (disproportionately used by whites).

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