Minority populations in Illinois face stiffer and more frequent punishment for low-level drug offenses than whites, the Associated Press reports. The Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission said 19 percent of blacks arrested for Class 4 drug felonies end up in prison, compared to 4 percent of white offenders. The study found a disproportionate number of minority arrests for drug-related crimes in 62 of 102 Illinois counties.
The commission said providing alternatives to prison could cut costs and help get people off drugs. The alternatives include substance abuse treatment and educating offenders on the consequences of prison time, such as hurting their chances of getting a job. Pam Rodriguez, president of the Treatment Alternative for Safe Communities, said she believes minorities often accept plea agreements that involve prison time instead of alternative sentencing. That might be because they don’t know about options other than prison, or poor communities may not have the money to offer alternatives. Difficulties hiring lawyers also may contribute to the disparity, she said.