For the first time in 25 years, the number of blacks in state prisons for drug offenses dropped substantially in the early part of this decade, says the Washington, D.C., advocacy group The Sentencing Project. A study by the organization for the years 1999 to 2005 found a 21.6 percent drop in the number of blacks incarcerated for a drug offense, a decline of 31,000 people in that time frame. The study found a corresponding rise in the number of whites in state prison for a drug offense, an increase of 42.6 percent, or more than 21,000 people. The number of Latinos in prison for state drug offenses was virtually unchanged.
The decline in blacks incarcerated for drug offenses comes on top of declining arrest and conviction rates for blacks. The study suggests much of the disparity resulting from the drug war was a function of police targeting open-air drug markets. As crack use and sales have declined, or moved indoors, law enforcement activity may have been reduced. Sentencing Project director Marc Mauer said that despite the new trend, African Americans are still imprisoned at more than six times the rate of whites for all offenses.