For the first time since crack cocaine fueled a war on drugs 20 years ago, the number of black Americans in state prisons for drug offenses fell sharply in the early part of this decade while the number of white prisoners in drug cases increased, said a Sentencing Project report quoted by the Washington Post. The report and other experts said the numbers could reflect an increased reliance by prosecutors and judges on prison alternatives such as drug courts and a shift in police focus to methamphetamines, which are used and distributed mostly by whites. In addition, crack use and arrests have declined steadily since the 1990s.
The advocacy group reported that the number of black inmates in state prisons for drug offenses fell from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, a 22 percent decline. In that period, the number of white drug offenders rose steadily, from about 50,000 to more than 72,000, a 43 percent increase. The number of Latino drug offenders was virtually unchanged at about 51,000. David Muhlhausen of the conservative Heritage Foundation said stronger police enforcement of methamphetamine cases, coupled with treatment options mostly for urban crack cocaine offenders, probably caused the shift. “There is some data out there that suggests that drug courts and drug treatments reduce recidivism,” he said.