Good News: Number of Blacks in Prison for Drug Offense Declines

It seems like black folks are always waking up to some kind of bad news involving the social conditions of our community. Indeed, there are blogs on the Internet whose sole purpose seems to be to highlight all that’s wrong and pathological in African American society.

So, it’s great to report some good news: the number of African Americans in prison for drug related offenses has declined in recent years. A report from The Sentencing Project, titled The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs, found that the number of African Americans in state and federal prisons for a drug offense declined by 12.2% from 1999-2005, for a reduction of just under 21,500 persons.

There was a decrease in the number of black drug offenders in state prisons for 1999-2005, and an increase in blacks in federal prisons for drug offenses during the same period. But the total change did represent an overall decline:

Blacks held in Prison FOR DRUG RELATED OFFENSES
Blacks-in-Prison-Drugs
Source: Prepared from the report The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs, by The Sentencing Project

Interestingly, the number of drug arrests has gone up since 1999: that year there were 1,557,100 drug arrests, compared to 1,846,351 in 2005, according to the Sentencing Project report. Also, the estimated percentage of drug users who are African American has gone up, too: blacks were an estimated 13.4% of drug users in 1999, versus 14.0% of drug users in 2005.

But despite the drop in the count of black drug offenders held in prison, the total drug offender prison population has gone up, from 322,957 prisoners in 1999 to 348,511 prisoners in 2005. The reason for the increase: there are now more white Americans in jail for use or sale of drugs. Whites in prison for drugs grew from 67,192 in 1999 to 94,551 in 2005, an increase of 40.7%.

A link to the entire Sentencing Project report is at the top of this post. It’s highly recommended reading.

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