After two decades of tougher sentencing laws, Illinois puts more people in prison for drug crimes than any state except California, says a study from Roosevelt University reported by the Chicagto Tribune. The report found that more people are being incarcerated for possessing narcotics than for selling them and that the state’s prisons hold about five black inmates convicted of drug offenses for every white–one of the largest racial disparities in the nation. The findings cast doubt on the fairness and effectiveness of Illinois’ against illegal drugs, said Kathleen Kane-Willis of Roosevelt’s Institute for Metropolitan Affairs. “Just locking folks up is not reducing our drug problems, but it’s sure costing us a lot of money,” she said. “I think we need to take a different tactic and start funding treatment at higher levels so people don’t have to go to prison.”
In 1983, 456 people convicted of possessing or selling drugs were behind bars in Illinois, 5 percent of the prison population. By 2002, the number had soared to 12,985, or 38 percent of all inmates. In the 1980s and 1990s, Illinois locked up more people for selling drugs than for possessing them. But by 2002, the reverse was true. Walt Hehner, deputy chief of narcotics prosecutor in Chicago, said that might be partly due to drug dealers agreeing to plead guilty to lesser possession charges. Some defendants plead guilty rather than go into drug treatment because they can spend less time on parole than they would being tracked in a treatment program, said Cook County Public Defender Edwin Burnette.