US Marijuana Party

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Drug Busts in Black and White

by Algernon Austin
New Haven Advocate, CT

Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi: admitted cocaine use; sought drug treatment on his own; so far, no criminal charges.

Representative Patrick J. Kennedy: addiction to prescription medicines; sentenced to drug treatment for driving under the influence of prescription drugs.

Rush Limbaugh: painkiller addiction; granted leniency for prescription-drug fraud in exchange for undergoing treatment for drug addiction; possession of Viagra under someone else's name may change this sentence.

Reviewing these cases, one might be led to believe that the norm is for non-violent drug abusers to receive drug treatment instead of incarceration. This is not the case. America's "war on drugs" policies have led to a massive increase in the number of non-violent drug offenders in our prisons. In 1986, 8.6 percent of state prisoners were incarcerated for drug offenses. In 2002, 21.4 percent were, although there was no increase in the rates of illicit drug use. In absolute numbers, over 200,000 more people are in state prison for drug offenses today than in the mid-1980s.

So, how did the individuals above avoid incarceration? For one, Fabrizi, Kennedy and Limbaugh are certainly not in poverty. They are also white. People from all walks of life have used illegal drugs and have become addicted to them. The "war on drugs" affects people of all races, but it hurts non-whites most severely. In 2002, 15 percent of white prisoners, 25 percent of black prisoners and 27 percent of Hispanic prisoners were in state prisons for drug offenses.

Minorities are also more likely to serve longer sentences when convicted. The Sentencing Project reports, "Black and Latino defendants tend to be sentenced more severely than comparably situated white defendants for less serious crimes, especially drug and property crimes."

Drug arrests within drug-free zones are subject to a harsher sentence. In a number of states, schools, parks and public housing projects and an area typically about 1,000 feet around those entities have been designated drug-free zones. In Connecticut, the area is 1,500 feet. The point: keep drugs away from kids.

The problem: In cities such as New Haven, nearly every square foot ends up being a drug-free zone. Since minority populations are concentrated in cities, their drug arrests are much more likely to be subject to drug-free-zone penalties.


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