JPay Blog

Surprising Data on Race & Drug Convictions

The “Sentencing Project,” based out of Washington D.C., has reported that the number of African American prisoners incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses, fell twenty-two percent from its 1999 total of 145,000 to 113,500 for 2005. The number of white drug offenders during that time period grew roughly 43%. The number of Hispanic drug offenders was essentially unchanged at approximately 51,000.

This marks the first time since the crack cocaine epidemic began about 20 years ago, that the amount of African Americans incarcerated for drug offenses has fallen this sharply, while the number of white inmates convicted for drug offenses has risen.

The results of the Sentencing Project study represent a major shift in the racial makeup of those imprisoned for drug offenses, and suggest a significant change in the demographics of our prisons that for several decades have been disproportionately black.  People arrested for drug crimes account for roughly twenty-five percent of the country’s prison population.

The report as well as other experts in criminology said that the data could reflect a few different factors, including an increase in prison alternatives like drug courts as well as police forces focusing increasingly on methamphetamines, which are more popular among whites.  Furthermore, the use of crack has declined sharply since its peak in the 1990s.

Black drug offenders, arrested most often for possessing and dealing crack, still account for a disproportionate percentage of drug offenders incarcerated in state prisons, at approximately 45% for 2005, which is a decline from 1999 when they accounted for almost 58 percent of the prison pop. African Americans account for approximately 12% of the population of the United States.

Meanwhile, imprisoned white drug offenders rose from 20% to 29%, and Hispanic inmates accounted for 20% of our state prison population
Surprising data indeed.