Black men and women are imprisoned for drug offenses twice as often as white drug users, though there are five times more white users than black users, according to a recent report.
Of drug offenders sent to prison in 1996, 62.7 percent were African-American and 36.7 were white, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization.
Blacks make up roughly 12.8 percent of the United States population. And whites, including Hispanics, make up approximately 82.3 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“These racial disparities are a national scandal,” said Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a New York Times article. “Black and white drug offenders get radically different treatment in the American justice system. This is not only profoundly unfair to blacks, it also corrodes the American ideal of equal justice for all.”
African-Americans make up 90 percent of imprisoned drug users in Illinois and Maryland, according to the report. Blacks make up more than 80 percent of imprisoned drug offenders in Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Reasons for the disparities, say experts outside of Human Rights Watch, may not include racism.
Though there are five times more white illegal drug users than black users, drug abuse among African-Americans tends to be more chronic and to include harder drugs, according to experts at the Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics, cited in the New York Times.
Researchers for Human Rights Watch do not exclude racism as a potential cause for the disparities but note various possibilities:
–Drug activity occurs on the street in black neighborhoods, where it is more easily noticed. Drug deals and drug use occur more behind closed doors in white neighborhoods.
–Low income African-Americans cannot afford lawyers who can win lesser sentences.
Officials of Human Rights Watch say politicians need to address the racial disparities.
“Racial disparities in the criminal justice system is [sic] like the elephant in the room that no one is talking about,” said Jamie Fellner, associate counsel of Human Rights Watch. “I find it incomprehensible that neither of the Presidential candidates is talking about this. There still is a timidity to say anything that would lend them being accused of being soft on crime.”
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