Cocaine convictions in Florida are down more than half during the past decade, as violent crime rates plummeted. Now, the crisis is heroin and fentanyl. The dealers are mostly white. So are the tens of thousands of Floridians dying. The policies used to combat the epidemic still target those with darker skin, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports. Reporters spent more than a year analyzing millions of records in the state court Offender Based Transaction System, which tracks every criminal case in Florida from arrest to appeal. The newspaper also used databases from the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Medical Examiners Commission to measure racial disparities in the war on drugs. Blacks are 17 percent of Florida’s population but have accounted for 46 percent of the state’s felony drug convictions since 2004. Blacks spend two-thirds more time behind bars for drug crimes.
Laws on the books since the crack epidemic bloat racial disparities. Heightened penalties for carrying drugs near churches, parks and public housing blanket minority communities, where police roam for low-level offenders. Blacks are nearly three times more likely to face a drug-free zone enhancement and account for two thirds of these convictions statewide. Once caught in drug-free zones, blacks spend double the time locked up as whites who are convicted of the enhanced charges and score similar points on their sentencing guidelines, which account for the prior records of defendants and the severity of their crimes. Legislators continue to pass laws that emphasize punishment over treatment, even as rehab is seen as the answer to substance abuse. These policies have crowded jails and prisons, while making it harder for blacks to get help for addiction.