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Law Enforcement: Ohio SWAT Officer Who Killed Young Mother in Drug Raid Gets Charged With Misdemeanors, Faces Eight Months at Most

Back in January, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, a member of the Lima, Ohio, SWAT team shot and killed Tarika Wilson, 26, and shot and maimed her infant son, Sincere Wilson, as she held him in her arms as he and other SWAT team members executed a drug search warrant at the home Wilson shared with her boyfriend. The boyfriend was the object of the raid.
graphic appearing on Lima SWAT team web site, removed after shooting
Police have presented no evidence that Wilson acted in a threatening manner as the SWAT team burst into her home.

On Monday, prosecutors charged Chavalia with two misdemeanors -- negligent homicide in the death of Wilson and negligent assault in the wounding of her child -- that could see him spend a maximum of eight months in prison if convicted on both counts. Wilson's relatives and activists, many of whom allege a pattern of discriminatory policing by the Lima police, were outraged.

The shooting itself touched off heated city council meetings and protest marches. Many citizens and civil rights leaders, including national figures like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had called for police and local elected officials to be held accountable. Those calls grew louder after Chavalia's charges were announced.

"Any time a man shoots through a baby and kills an unarmed woman, and is charged with two misdemeanors, I think it would be an understatement to say that that's unacceptable," said Jason Upthegrove, Lima NAACP president, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Upthegrove said the charges should have been more serious. He added that the Lima NAACP will ask the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate whether the case has been handled fairly.

"No one's above the law, even if he serves it," said Ivory Austin II, brother of Tarika Wilson. "Don't separate the police from the people. We are all equal in the society. Treat the police like you would treat the common man," he told the AP.

Lima Police Chief Greg Garlock said there was continued sadness over the shooting. "It's a sad day for us that one of our officers was indicted," Garlock said.

U.N. Committee to Review Racial Injustice in U.S.

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project]

Dear Friends:

Beginning today, the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will hold hearings in Geneva, Switzerland, to review racial inequities in the United States, including disparities in criminal sentencing.

The Sentencing Project submitted a report to the Committee in December in preparation for this week's hearings. The national criminal justice reform organization called upon the Committee to hold the U.S. government accountable for failing to ensure equality before the law. Notably, its report argues that the racially disparate impact of federal cocaine sentencing laws violate requirements of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), to which the U.S. is a signatory.

"The U.S. Government's harsh sentencing policy for low-level crack cocaine offenses has unfairly incarcerated a disproportionate number of African American citizens in federal prisons," said Ryan S. King, Policy Analyst at The Sentencing Project and co-author of its report to the Committee. "No other drug is punished as severely under federal law and no other law has done more to create racial disparity within federal prisons."

Under current law it takes 100 times the quantity of powder cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence as crack cocaine. The result of this penalty differential is that the average federal crack cocaine sentence is more than three years longer than a conviction for a powder cocaine offense. This policy has had a catastrophic impact on the African American community because more than 80% of persons convicted of a federal crack cocaine offense are black, despite the fact that two-thirds of regular crack cocaine users are white or Latino. Meanwhile, only 27% of defendants convicted of powder cocaine offenses are African American.

The Committee will question representatives of the U.S. government Thursday and Friday in Geneva and offer concluding observations, including recommended reforms, in early March.

The Sentencing Project's report, Racial Disparities in Criminal Court Processing in the United States, offers input regarding the nation's compliance, and the need to reform current criminal justice practices.

It states that mandatory minimum sentencing practices, the result of 30 years of legislative policies that limit judicial discretion, have increased prosecutors' authority, greatly increased the length of imprisonment in many cases, and had a profound impact on African American and Latino communities.

Recommendations by The Sentencing Project urge that:

  • The United States government should take steps to end all mandatory sentencing practices, returning sentencing discretion to judges;
  • The United States government should amend penalties for crack cocaine to be equivalent with those for powder cocaine, at the current quantity threshold of powder cocaine; and
  • The United States government should require the preparation of racial/ethnic impact statements to be submitted in conjunction with all sentencing and corrections legislation anticipated to effect measurable change on the incarcerated population.

This week's hearings occur during a time of unprecedented momentum for federal sentencing reform. In late 2007, the U.S. Sentencing Commission amended the federal sentencing guidelines to reduce the sentence length for certain individuals convicted of a crack cocaine offense and voted unanimously to apply this reform retroactively. The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled in December that federal judges should be able to consider the impact of the 100-to-1 disparity when deciding a defendant's sentence. Finally, there are currently seven bills that have been introduced in Congress that would address federal cocaine sentencing, and the Senate and House have scheduled hearings on the issue this month.

This report to the CERD was prepared in conjunction with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and is available by clicking here.



Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System," by Silja Talvi (2007, Seal Press, 356 pp., $15.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

Forty years ago, some 11,000 women were imprisoned in the United States. By 2004, that number had skyrocketed to 110,000, and if you add in the women in jails on any given day, the number of women behind bars is around 200,000 -- many, many of them on drug charges.
While the overall US prisoner population has rapidly increased over the past few decades, the growth in the number of women behind prison far surpasses the overall rate. Yet most studies of the US prison and jail systems focus on the much larger male prisoner population. That's something investigate journalist Silja Talvi hopes to redress with "Women Behind Bars," and she has done an outstanding job of it.

Visiting numerous prisons -- not only in the US, but also, for comparative purposes, in Canada, England, and Finland -- and conducting hundreds of interviews with prisoners, guards, and advocates, as well as perusing the academic literature, Talvi has constructed a portrait of the US criminal justice system's treatment of women that is a harsh indictment of not only our prisons, but also the culture that perpetuates the resort to mass incarceration as a response to social problems.

It is not easy reading. After all, who wants to read about women prisoners being sexually harassed and raped by guards, who wants to read about prison wings full of mentally disturbed women prisoners screaming incessantly or rubbing feces on their cell walls, who wants to read about women prisoners committing suicide after being locked into cell-like "suicide prevention" rooms seemingly designed to drive them over the edge? Who wants to read about some of the weakest and already most brutalized members of our society who turn to dope or prostitution (or, too often, dope and prostitution), only to be imprisoned for their "crimes"?

It's an ugly subject, and that's part of the problem. Nobody wants to think about our world-leading prison population or the agonies we inflict upon it. In fact, our prison system is geared to shutting them up behind grey walls hidden from the public eye and, hopefully, from the public consciousness. But Silja Talvi is determined to rip the scales from our eyes and force us to look at what we have wrought.

She does so with verve, grace, and humanity. Not only does Talvi bring a keen critical intellect to bear, she also gives voice to the voiceless, standing aside at times to let the women prisoners of America speak for themselves. Their tales of suffering are heartrendingly grim, sometimes seeming as if they were coming from the seventh circle of Hell. The treatment of mentally ill women prisoners is a scandal. The use of female prisoners as sexual playthings by corrupted prison guards is another.

All too many of those stories are because of the decades-long, relentless escalation of the war on drugs. For many reading these words, the story of the imprisonment juggernaut created by the drug war legislation of the 1980s and nurtured by political inertia ever since is an already familiar tale. But Salvi tells it again, eloquently and passionately. We meet women like Amy Ralston, who suffered in prison for more than a decade because she wouldn't rat out her estranged husband , and Regina White, a black woman from South Carolina doing 12 years after crusading pro-life prosecutors charged her with manslaughter for doing cocaine while pregnant -- even though there was no evidence linking her child's death to her drug use.

Talvi offers a harsh critique of the policies and practices that generate thousands of new women prisoners on drug charges, many of them only spouses or girlfriends of the law's actual targets. All too often, Salvi notes, these women end up doing more time than the real culprits even if they had little or no involvement in any drug conspiracies. Prosecutors routinely make conscious decisions to charge them as co-conspirators and send them up the river for years or decades despite knowing that the women are small change. It is a cruelty and cynicism that makes even the hardened heart weep.

Talvi isn't a prison abolitionist; she argues that there are indeed some people who need to be behind bars, but that that number is a tiny fraction of those who actually are, especially women. But she is ready to take on the drug war, sex laws, and other freedom-sucking laws and practices: "I personally would prefer to see the decriminalization or legalization of drug use, the legalization of all forms of consensual sex (including prostitution), far more opportunities for truly therapeutic intervention, prevention- and intervention-minded counseling, real vocational education, and a regular and fair parole review," she writes.

Her book, a cry from heart, will hopefully help hasten that process. We should all hope so, for as the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky once famously noted, "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals." As it should be, for we are all complicit in this by our silence.

In fact, as I ponder this, I am reminded of another quote, this one from a freedom-loving radical in our national past. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." That was Thomas Jefferson. He's probably been spinning in his grave for so long, there's nothing left by now.

Maybe, just maybe, Silja Talvi will help save us from ourselves by forcing us to help those we victimize the most. Let's hope lots of people read this book and take its lessons to heart.

(Copies of Women Behind Bars are available as part of our latest membership offer.)

Are Racist Cops Better Organized Than We Thought?

This is just chilling:
INSIDE the locker of a narcotics cop, Philadelphia police officials recently made a shocking discovery: A cartoon of a man, half as an officer in uniform and half as a Klansman with the words: "Blue By Day - White By Night. White Power," according to police officials.

Schweizer, 33, joined the force in June 1997 and makes $54,794 a year, city payroll records show. He became part of the elite Narcotics Strike Force about six years ago. As an undercover, plainclothes cop who worked day and night shifts, Schweizer was part of a surveillance team that watched drug buys and locked up hundreds of suspected drug dealers. He frequently testified in court as a witness for prosecutors. [Philadelphia Daily News]
Racial disparities abound in the war on drugs, but most analysis of the drug war's disparate impact focuses on institutional bias. Rarely are we confronted with such a disturbing window into the racist mindset of an individual officer. Such beliefs render one thoroughly unqualified to carry out law-enforcement duties in any capacity and raise serious questions about this officer's past actions.

More troubling, however, is the possibility that Schweizer is just the tip of the iceberg. Is he a cartoonist? Did he draw the thing himself, or is there a larger organization that produces and markets police-themed racist merchandise to a clientele of closeted white supremacist police officers? I don't know the answer, but this poster sounds like a logo for something very creepy.

Of course, this is just one anecdotal incident, but when such revelations occur within an institution with such a hideously rich tradition of racial bias, it certainly doesn't feel like a coincidence. It is an unflattering portrait of our criminal justice system that adherents to such ideology are able to assimilate within it. Indeed, had he merely possessed the wisdom to keep racist cartoons out if his locker, this officer would still be hard at work filling our prisons with young black and Hispanic drug offenders.
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The Sentencing Project's New Publication: Racial Impact Statements

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project]

I'm pleased to let you know of an article I have recently had published in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law that proposes the development of "Racial Impact Statements" as a means of assessing the impact of proposed sentencing policies.  I believe that such a policy would be of great benefit to policymakers and practitioners by establishing a proactive means of addressing a key dynamic in the criminal justice system.

In Racial Impact Statements as a Means of Reducing Unwarranted Sentencing Disparities, I suggest that these statements have much in common with fiscal and environmental impact statements that have become commonplace at many levels of government.  The goal of a racial impact statement would be to assess the projected impact of new sentencing legislation on racial and ethnic minorities prior to enactment of the policy.  If the statement indicates that unwarranted sentencing disparities might be produced, legislators would have the opportunity of considering alternative means of achieving public safety goals that would not exacerbate existing disparities.

I hope that this proposal will be of use to legislators, sentencing commissions, practitioners, and advocacy organizations alike.  Far too often in public policy discussions issues of racial disparity are examined after the fact.  By enacting this policy, we would have the opportunity to engage in a more constructive approach to assessing issues of race and the criminal justice system. 

I hope you find this article helpful in your work and would welcome hearing any reactions you may have.


Marc Mauer

Executive Director

United States

Pain Medicine: Emergency Room Doctors More Likely to Prescribe Opioids to Whites Than Minorities

A new study has found that while emergency room prescribing of opioid pain medications for ER patients complaining of pain has increased in recent years, doctors are less likely to prescribe them for minority patients than white ones. Even in cases where patients complain of severe pain, such as kidney stones, the difference holds.

The study, "Trends in Opioid Prescribing by Race/Ethnicity for Patients Seeking Care in US Emergency Departments," was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It analyzed more than 150,000 ER visits between 1993 and 2005 and found racial differences in prescribing in all US regions, in both urban and rural hospitals, and for all types of pain.

The study found that the prescribing of drugs for pain in the ER rose during the period in question, from 23% of those complaining of pain in 1993 to 37% in 2005. That increase reflects increased understanding of the necessity of pain management by physicians. Now, doctors in accredited hospitals must ask patients about pain, just as they monitor vital signs. But while prescribing is on the increase, the racial divide remains.

According to the study, 31% of white patients in pain were prescribed opioids, compared to 28% of Asians, 24% of Hispanics, and 23% of blacks. When it comes to the severe pain related to kidney stones, whites got opioids 72% of the time, compared to 68% for Hispanics, 67% for Asians, and only 56% for blacks.

"The gaps between whites and nonwhites have not appeared to close at all," said study coauthor Dr. Mark Pletcher of the University of California, San Francisco.

Researchers are looking for reasons for the discrepancy. Pletcher suggested to the Associated Press that minority patients "may be less likely to keep complaining about their pain or feel they deserve good pain control."

Linda Simoni-Wastila of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Pharmacy told the AP the findings could reveal some doctors' suspicions that minority patients could be drug abusers lying about pain to get narcotics. She said that according to her own research, blacks are the least likely group to abuse prescription drugs.

The study's authors suggested that the finding could indicate either that doctors are less likely to see signs of pain reliever abuse in white patients or that they are underrating pain in minority patients. Whatever the reason, it seems that the racial injustice associated with drug prohibition reaches even into the emergency room.

"It's time to move past describing disparities and work on narrowing them," Dr. Thomas Fisher, an emergency room doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center who was not involved in the study, told the AP. Fisher, who is black, said that even he needed to be careful not to let subconscious assumptions inappropriately influence his prescribing decisions. "If anybody argues they have no social biases that sway clinical practice, they have not been thoughtful about the issue or they're not being honest with themselves," he said.

Sentencing: New Jersey Moves to Shrink "Drug-Free Zones," Cops Protest

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D), all 21 county prosecutors, and the state sentencing commission all agree that the Garden State's drug-free zone law is ineffective, racially unbalanced and should be amended, but some New Jersey law enforcement officials disagree. While Corzine and his allies want to cut back on the drug-free zones, these police officials are pushing for even stiffer penalties.

Under current New Jersey law, anyone caught selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or 500 feet of a park, public building, or public housing is subject to increased penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences. Under the proposal presented by the state and embodied in a pending bill, A2877, the drug-free zones would be cut back to 200 feet, sentences would be increased for sales within the zones, but the mandatory minimum sentences would be dropped.

Drug-free zones became popular as a law enforcement tool designed to protect kids from drug dealers, but as the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing pointed out in a 2005 report and again in a supplemental report this year, the zones cover huge swathes of urban New Jersey, effectively submitting black and brown city dwellers to much more severe penalties than those faced by their white suburban or rural counterparts. According to the commission, 96% of people jailed under the law are black or Hispanic.

The drug-free zone laws had another pernicious effect as well: Although they did not stop drug dealing within the zones, they did result in stiff mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted. Selling a bag of weed in the zone got you a year in prison, while selling a rock of crack got you three years. As a result, more defendants fought their cases, clogging the courts with low-level drug dealers.

In addition to clogging the courts, prosecutors also complained that the mandatory minimums meant there was little wiggle room for plea deals, leaving them without cooperating witnesses to make further drug cases. As a result, prosecutors have effectively ditched the mandatory minimums for anyone who would accept a plea bargain. Now, only those who contest their charges in court and lose are hit with the mandatory minimums.

But while the governor, the prosecutors, and the sentencing commission want to further reform the drug-free zone law, some police want to go in the opposite direction. "Leave it at 1,000 feet," said Rahway Police Chief John Rodger. "And increase the penalty in the 200-foot zone," he told the Home News Tribune this week.

Still, Rodger conceded that he could not recall any drug deals taking place in or near schoolyards, a sentiment shared by veteran Middlesex County Prosecutor Caroline Meuly. The drug-free zone law has "a laudable goal," she said, "but I can't think of any (criminal case) file where people have sold to children or targeted them."

Reforming New Jersey's drug-free zone law as Corzine and crew suggest would be an improvement, but it would still be aimed primarily at low-level urban minority drug dealers. Better to limit it to cases of actual sales of drugs to youths, or repeal it outright.

Feature: Drug Reform Goes to the Big Easy -- The 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, New Orleans

In its biggest show of numbers yet, the drug reform movement gathered in New Orleans last weekend for the 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. More than 1,200 activists, harm reductionists, treatment providers, drug users, law enforcement professionals and government officials came together in this city devastated just over two years ago by Hurricane Katrina to listen to speakers and panels, hob-nob in the hallways, and experience the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans. Panelists and attendees arrived in New Orleans from across the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico, Hungary, Brazil, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
conference plenary session (courtesy
"There has never been a gathering this big on this issue before," said Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann as he greeted attendees on the conference's opening day. "We're trying to build a movement for freedom and justice, science and compassion, and human rights. We're coming from the left and the right, from law enforcement and from being arrested, from those who love their drugs and those devastated by drugs. But we all agree on the conviction that this war on drugs, this policy of punitive prohibition, has got to go," he said to clamorous applause.

The war on drugs is about race, said Nadelmann. "This is all about race -- no, it's mostly about race," he said. "We know who is mostly getting arrested, beaten up, and convicted. If the people behind bars were not black or brown, but white, this policy would change like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

Nadelmann's remarks came on the opening morning of the three-day conference hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, and co-hosted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Harm Reduction Coalition, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

Also on the conference's opening day was a speech by Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, who told a boisterous and sometimes combative audience of drug reformers that while a drug-free world is probably not attainable, it is almost certainly desirable, and that he would continue to work toward that goal. Costa took more flak in a question and answer session immediately following his speech.

The selection of New Orleans for this year's conference was especially appropriate, given the conference's emphasis this year on increasing racial diversity within the movement and the city's tawdry reputation when it comes to criminal justice and drug policy. In addition to attending conference functions, hundreds of conference-goers traveled to the ghost town-like 9th Ward to see first-hand the storm's devastation and the equally devastating lack of reconstruction in the area. Dozens more attended sessions devoted to familiarizing them with drug reform-related issues in New Orleans and meeting with local activists and officials.

Drug offenders are jailed at one of the highest rates in the nation in New Orleans, speakers said. Poverty is high, treatment options are limited, the justice system is in a post-Katrina crisis (as if it were in good shape before the storm), yet the drug war continues to roll along. "The criminal justice system in New Orleans was always in a sad state of affairs, yet very good at making a high number of arrests," said Bruce Johnson of the National Development Research Institute, who is working on an analysis of post-Katrina drug markets.

"We've been known for a long time for having the worst and most corrupt police force in America," said Morris Henderson, an organizer with Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a local community group. "Our police department is making 900 to 1000 arrests a week, but 85% of them are people arrested for paraphernalia or marijuana possession or having one or two rocks of crack," he said. "Our system has been overwhelmed by this approach, and now we have a unique opportunity in this city to change the frame. We're tired of being last in what everybody else wants to be first in. We've been fighting this unjust drug war for 40 years, and it's time for something sensible to be done."

The conference also attracted at least one local congressional candidate, Democrat Gilda Reed, who is running to replace Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal, who vacated the seat to become Louisiana governor. "There is so much going on here," she said in the lobby of the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street. "It's really quite amazing," she said after meeting with high-powered drug reformers and listening in on sessions Friday afternoon.

Throughout the three-day conference, attendees were treated to a dizzying array of panels, speeches, roundtables, and working sessions on almost every conceivable aspect of drug policy and drug prohibition. On Friday morning alone, conference-goers had to choose between "Who Else Should Be Diverted From Prison," "Prescribing Heroin," "Marijuana and Health: Risks and Benefits," "Beyond Zero-Tolerance: Experience it For Yourself," "Understanding and Preventing Opioid Poisoning: A National Perspective," and "Building Momentum in Congress," before coming together for a plenary session on "Black America: The Debate Within." (See the conference web page for a complete listing of panels, all of which are now available for sale on audio.)

While the drug reform movement has long been criticized (and has long criticized itself) for being overwhelmingly white, organizers this year took pains to make race and the drug war a central issue, and it seemed to make a difference. The number of non-white faces in the crowd, while still a distinct minority, was noticeably larger than at any other national drug reform conference.

During Friday's plenary session, among others, the movement confronted the race issue head on. "We have never effectively dealt with the issue of racism as we should," said the Rev. Edwin Sanders, a leading black clerical voice for drug reform. "Here in the drug reform family, we need some serious conversation about this issue. Sometimes, you don't appreciate the dynamics of power and elitism."

"From the beginning, combating the war on drugs has been about two major principles: the principle of personal autonomy and freedom and the principle of racial equity and justice," said Ira Glasser, former executive director of the ACLU. "The war on drugs violates those principles egregiously. From the beginning, this was a war driven by race. The only prohibition that was ever repealed was that on alcohol, the favorite drug of the white majority," Glasser noted. In the wake of the end of formal segregation, "the war on drugs has become a replacement system for the subjugation of black citizens," he added.

Where are the mainstream civil rights organizations?, asked Nadelmann. "If they were to come here, they would see what's possible and what kind of constituents they truly have. There is such tremendous energy, drive and passion here," he said. "People feel the suffering in their communities, and they recognize that drug policy reform is one of the key ways to go about changing what they are seeing and experiencing."

For black America in general and the hip-hop generation in particular, drug reform activism is only part of a larger struggle, said Dr. James Peterson, a Bucknell University English professor and hip-hop scholar. "Drug policy and drugs in general are part of an interconnected series of challenges for them," he said. "First, there is the prison industrial complex and an aggressive justice policy. We think of over-incarceration in general as being the larger problem. Second, if you consider what crack did to inner city communities, it is difficult to think of drug policy reform rather than the destruction of certain illegal drugs in their communities. Third, gangs and gang related violence, again linked to drugs, but seen as more of a problem. Fourth, the proliferation of guns in general," Peterson said.

And so the long overdue movement conversation on race and racism begins to move within the movement. If something comes of these conversations on race in New Orleans, that will be the 2007 conference's greatest achievement.

[Editor's Note: No single article can accurately encapsulate what went on at the conference. Look for more Drug War Chronicle articles based on what we learned at the conference to appear in coming weeks. Click here for links to more coverage.]

Sentencing: Racial Disparities in Drug Sentences the Norm in the Nation's Most Populous Counties, Study Finds

A report released Tuesday by the Justice Policy Institute has found that nearly all of the nation's most populous counties imprisoned blacks for drug offenses at a higher rate than whites. Out of the 198 counties examined in the report, 193 of them, or 97%, showed racial disparities in sentencing.

The report, The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties, found that counties with higher poverty rates, larger black populations, and larger police or judicial budgets imprison people for drug offenses at higher rates than those who don't. Those relationships held whether the county had a high crime rate or not.

The five US counties with the highest racial disparities are, in rank order: Foryth County (Winston-Salem), North Carolina; Onondaga County (Syracuse), New York; Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin; Kane County (west Chicago suburbs); Illinois; and Westmoreland County (east of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania.

Among the major findings:

  • While tens of millions of people use illicit drugs, prison and policing responses to drug behavior have a concentrated impact on a subset of the population. In 2002, there were 19.5 million illicit drug users, 1.5 million drug arrests, and 175,000 people admitted to prison for a drug offense.
  • While African Americans and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates, African Americans are ten times more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug offenses.
  • Of the 175,000 admitted to prison nationwide in 2002, over half were African American, despite the fact that African Americans make up less than 13 percent of the US population.
  • There is no relationship between the rates at which people are sent to prison for drug offenses and the rates at which people use drugs in counties. For example, although Rockingham County, NH, has a larger percent of its population reporting illicit drug use, Jefferson Parish, LA, sent more people to prison for a drug offense at a rate 36 times that of Rockingham.
  • Higher county drug prison admission rates were associated with how much was spent on policing and the judicial system, higher poverty and unemployment rates, and the proportion of the county's population that is African American.

"The exponential removal of people of color who have substance abuse problems from their communities and into prisons undermines and destabilizes neighborhoods -- it does not make them safer," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Drug addiction doesn't discriminate but our drug policies do."

Researchers attributed disparate policing practices, disparate treatment before the courts, mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws, and differences in the availability of drug treatment for African Americans compared with whites as reasons for the significant racial disparities seen in drug imprisonment rates.

"Laws -- like drug laws -- that are violated by a large percentage of the population are particularly prone to selective enforcement," said Phillip Beatty, coauthor of the study. "The reason African Americans are so disproportionately impacted may, in part, be related to social policy, the amount spent on law enforcement and judiciary systems, and local drug enforcement practices."

While the report does not make detailed recommendations for counties, the authors suggest that policymakers consider reforming drug policies to include:

  • De-escalation of the "drug war." Drug enforcement practices are focused in the African-American community, despite evidence that they are no more likely than their white counterparts to be engaged in drug use or drug delivery behaviors. Local, state and federal policymakers should closely examine racial disparities in local drug imprisonment rates that result from these practices, and consider alternative approaches to reducing drug use and sales.
  • Careful consideration of public safety funding. While policing and judicial expenditures need to be prioritized to help deal with violent crime, other ways to promote public safety would include investments in public health policies and services that reduce poverty and unemployment.
  • A shift to evidence-based drug enforcement practices. Reform drug enforcement practices, and collect data to analyze the fairness of local drug enforcement tactics and policies.

"Rather than focus law enforcement efforts on drug-involved people who bear little threat to public safety, we should free up local resources to fund treatment, job training, supportive housing, and other effective public safety strategies," said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute.

Video of Ron Paul Debate Comments Opposing Drug War

Last week we posted some Mike Gravel footage on about drug legalization, and promised to do likewise for Ron Paul if recent links were sent. Fresh from the Republican candidates debate on PBS, Dr. Paul speaks, via YouTube (and Drug WarRant):

Interestingly, he discusses the racial disparity in drug enforcement, not such a popular angle with Republican audiences generally, despite the overwhelmingly evidence about it. Good for him. Now, any Dennis Kucinich anti-drug war footage out there?

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