The Cleveland Plain Dealer examined hundreds of court cases to to gauge whether white defendants get different treatment than black defendants in the criminal justice system. The newspaper focused specifically on drug cases, which not only dominate local court dockets but also are characterized far more than most violent or property crimes by judgment calls and policy decisions at virtually every level of the system. Despite data consistently showing that far more white people use crack cocaine, powder cocaine, and other illegal drugs than black people, blacks overwhelmingly dominate the ranks of those who are arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for drugs.
In Cleveland, a black person is nearly four times more likely to be arrested on felony drug charges than a white person. Since 2000, a black person has been 12.7 times more likely than a white person to be sent to a state prison from Cuyahoga County on drug charges. Among 364 defendants fitting certain conditions, roughly 63 percent were given a second chance at having their cases dismissed — and avoiding a conviction of any kind — by successfully completing a treatment program. Whites were considerably more likely than blacks to get that second bite at the apple. Among whites, 72 percent of defendants got the treatment option, compared to 53 percent among blacks. The black first-timers, meanwhile, were 66 percent more likely to be saddled with a felony record than their white counterparts.