New report, same old story on race and drug sentences

12/10/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Last week a report came out showing that blacks are far more likely to be locked up for drug offenses than whites.

Robert Batey is a professor of criminal law at Stetson University College of Law. He’s reacting to the report from the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute, which after examining nearly 200 of the nation's largest counties, found that 97 percent had racial disparities in drug incarceration rates.

Overall, African Americans were 10 times more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug offenses, even though whites and blacks sell and use illegal drugs at similar rates.

La Wanda Johnson, with the Justice Policy Institute, says it’s time for the country to reconsider our drug policy.

Though the report, The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties, does not list specific recommendations for counties, overall, it argues that there should be a de-escalation of the drug war and a shift to evidence-based drug enforcement practices.

The report ranks counties with the highest racial disparities. Polk County was the highest ranking bay area county, listed at 51st. Hillsborough was 66th, Pinellas 82nd. According to the report, Polk and Orange counties had the biggest percentage of blacks, but the lowest disparity in incarceration rates.

Stetson Professor Robert Batey says Washington and Tallahasee have been missing in action with regard to forming policies to deal with the disparity in arrests and incarcerations.

Critics to the U.S.’s war on drugs say one solution would be to adjust priorities add funding to deal with violent crime.

To read the report, visit the Justice Policy Institute website.

Stacy Fuerhardt contributed to this story.

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