The number of black Americans in state prisons on drug charges has declined for the first time in decades even as the number of imprisoned white drug offenders rises, the Washington Post reported April 14.
A new report from the Sentencing Project found that the number of black inmates incarcerated for drug offenses fell from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, down 21.6 percent. This was the first decline reported since the crack cocaine epidemic exploded in the 1980s.
During the same period, the number of white drug offenders rose from 50,700 to 72,300, an increase of 42.6 percent. The number of Latino offenders remained about the same.
Researchers said the shift could be due to the impact of drug courts and more law-enforcement focus on methamphetamine, predominantly used by white Americans. Crack use and arrests also have declined. “There is some data out there that suggests that drug courts and drug treatments reduce recidivism,” said David Muhlhausen, a senior policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation. “If you take the less serious offenders and put them into programs other than prison it would be a benefit to society.”
Blacks still represent a disproportionate share of prison inmates — 44 percent — but whites now make up 29 percent of the prison population, with Latinos accounting for another 20 percent.