Data Show ‘Racial Double Standard’ in Drug Prosecutions

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A racial double standard has been hard-wired into the nation’s criminal justice system since the heyday of the crack epidemic in the late 1980s and continues today, reports the Asbury Park, N.J. Press. When it comes to the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic, the priority is saving lives. The remedy for crack was mass arrests and stiff prison sentences. “If the (crack) addicts were predominantly white, instead of black, we would have offered them treatment, as we do now,” said Robert Stutman, the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration New York City office during the 1980s war against crack.  Opioids have changed the way the U.S. looks at drug users, but blacks still are punished more severely than whites, even though drug use within the two racial groups is about the same.

An examination of hundreds of thousands of arrest records and federal drug convictions over 30 years found that most crack users were and still are white, but blacks were sent to federal prison nearly seven times more often for crack offenses from 1991 to 2016.  Nineteen of the 94 federal court districts didn’t send a white defendant to prison on crack charges from 1991 through 1995. From 1980 to 2014, the rate of drug arrests for accused black drug offenders was at least twice the rate of whites. Hispanics have been prosecuted on federal crack charges at a higher rate than whites. The racial disparity in drug arrests continues. Even though heroin and prescription opioids are more deadly, there were nearly four times more arrests for cocaine than opioid drugs in 2016. Far more blacks (85,640) were arrested for cocaine than whites were arrested for heroin and other opioids (66,120) that year. Blacks in 21 states were arrested at a rate at least three times higher than whites for drug offenses in 2016.

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