Blacks on Long Island were 36 times more likely in 2002 to be imprisoned for drug offenses than whites, despite possessing and selling illegal drugs at similar rates, says to a national study tracking racial disparities in prison admissions reported by Newsday. Only 14 of the nation’s 198 largest counties — those with populations of 250,000 or more — yielded higher disparities than Long Island in the study by the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank focusing on alternatives to incarceration. “I did not expect that 97 percent of the largest counties would see racial disparities in terms of the African-American and white admission rates,” said institute director Jason Ziedenberg.
Disparities may stem from law enforcement policies that concentrate on “open-air” drug sales in urban centers, Ziedenberg said. Blacks tend to sell drugs on streets while whites tend to sell them from homes, dormitory rooms and other indoor locations. Nationally, the study found blacks go to prison at 10 times the rate of whites, and 193 of the country’s 198 largest counties present such racial disparities. The study did not factor for ethnicity so it does not account for Hispanics. Bob Gangi of the Correctional Association of New York said the “discriminatory aspects of how we deploy police, and the impact of mandatory sentencing laws leads to this result and a policy that is not only ineffective, but marked by corrosive racial bias.” Titled “The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties,” the study also found that of 175,000 people sent to prison for drugs nationwide in 2002, over half were black, though blacks comprise 13 percent of the population.