Popular Stereotype Just Bit the Dust

Bad news for all the folks out there who see drug offenders as one color. Your stereotype just got blown out of the water by a new study that analyzes data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services for all 50 states.

For the first time since the inception of the “war on drugs,” the number of African Americans incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses has declined substantially

For the first time in 25 years, since the inception of the “war on drugs,” the number of African Americans incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses has declined substantially, according to a study released today by The Sentencing Project. It finds a 21.6% drop in the number of blacks incarcerated for a drug offense, a decline of 31,000 people during the period 1999-2005.

The study…also documents a corresponding rise in the number of whites in state prison for a drug offense, an increase of 42.6% during this time frame, or more than 21,000 people. The number of Latinos incarcerated for state drug offenses was virtually unchanged.

Less dependence on racial profiling is one element in the changing numbers, but another important one is the drugs themselves. Crack cocaine is on the downhill side of popularity, while methamphetamine use is still rising. Crack is traditionally associated with black users while meth seems to be more of trailer trash thing. Whoops, speaking of stereotypes.

Besides, there’s still plenty of bad news to go around.

While the number of persons in state prisons for a drug offense rose by less than 1% during the study period, the increase in federal prisons was more than 32%. These latter changes are attributed to ongoing aggressive enforcement of drug laws, including application of harsh mandatory sentencing policies. Despite declines in the use of crack cocaine, federal prosecution and incarceration levels for crack offenses remain high and have a stark racially disparate impact.

…despite the new trend, African Americans are still imprisoned at more than six times the rate of whites for all offenses. Moreover, high incarceration rates for low-level drug offenses remain a function of the largely punitive approach to drug abuse that has proven expensive and ineffective.

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