Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Incarceration for African-Americans 7 Times Higher

African-Americans Have 7 Times Greater Chance Of Imprisonment

by Sherwood Ross

Many factors contribute to the incarceration today of more blacks than whites even though blacks make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population.

These factors go beyond the higher poverty and unemployment rates among black youth and include the higher arrest rate of blacks, judicial and prosecutorial discretion, better deals in plea bargaining for whites, and even differences in what is defined as a crime, writes authority Marc Mauer of the Prison Project of Washington, D.C., who says African-Americans “have a seven times greater chance of being incarcerated than do whites.”

For example, of nearly 250,000 state inmates serving time for drug offenses in 2004, 113,000 (or 45%) were blacks compared to 66,000, (or 26%) whites and 52,000, (or 21%) Hispanics.

In the 1950s, the Boggs Act penalized first-time possession of marijuana or heroin with a sentence of two to five years in prison---a pretty stiff penalty. The perception at the time was that marijuana was largely smoked by African-Americans and Mexicans, and was used frequently by jazz musicians.

However, when college campuses in the Sixties were flooded with youthful pot smokers who were predominantly white, “public attitudes began to change quickly,” Mauer wrote in The Long Term View, published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

“Marijuana came to be seen as a harmless drug, one that was not addictive and did not particularly lead to other criminal behavior,” Mauer noted.
Many states and localities revised their laws and some communities “all but decriminalized possession of small quantities,” he said. Even so, where Milwaukee regarded possession as a misdemeanor many of its suburbs treated it as an ordinance violation, allowing suburban whites to get off with a fine. “As whites became a larger portion of the user population and replaced blacks in the public image of the pot user, public policies changed rapidly in a more understanding and less punitive direction,” Mauer asserted.

“It is far more likely that in the late twentieth century, in contrast to earlier time, patterns of discrimination reflect unconscious biases rather than blatant attempts to oppress African Americans,” he wrote.

The “war on drugs,” though, later dramatically increased the number of drug arrests and made sentencing provisions harsher in most states. Drug possession arrests rose by 88 percent in the 1980-90 period and typical state penalties for drug possession (excluding marijuana) are up to five years for a first offense and up to 10 years for a second offense, Mauer said.

Again, drunk drivers --- 78% of who in a 1990 study were white--- were “generally charged as misdemeanants and typically receive sentences involving fines, license suspension, and community service,” Mauer said. By contrast, those convicted of drug possession---who are disproportionately low-income, Afro-American, and Hispanic, “are usually charged with felonies and frequently sentenced to incarceration.”

Prosecutors also tend to reduce the charges against whites convicted of felonies more often than against blacks convicted of felonies. A comprehensive examination of 700,000 criminal cases by the San Jose Mercury News, Mauer noted, included that of 71,000 adults with no prior records. In this group, one-third of whites had their felony charges reduced to misdemeanors “while only one quarter of blacks and Hispanics received this disposition.”

Sentencing practices in Western Europe are less harsh for some offenses than in the United States, Mauer pointed out. Many contend the reason for these practices is that Scandinavian societies are more homogeneous. “Precisely! Communities that feel a sense of commitment to their members are able to see the humanity of offenders despite their criminal behaviors and to see the potential for positive change in their lives,” he writes.

Mauer concludes that sentencing policies of recent years “have in fact unfairly affected low-income people and minorities…The toll that all this has taken on the African American community, and increasingly on the Latin community, is now truly staggering,” he concludes.

*************

The Massachusetts School of Law, publisher of The Long Term View, is purposefully dedicated to providing a rigorous, affordable education to students from low-income, minority, and immigrant backgrounds that would otherwise be unable to obtain a legal education. Its tuition is approximately half that of other New England area law schools. Further information: Sherwood Ross is a media consultant to Massachusetts School of Law. Reach him at sherwoodross10@gmail.com )

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

David Swanson: Torture Is Mainstream Now

As Rebecca Gordon notes in her new book, Mainstreaming Torture, polls find greater support in the United States for torture now than when Bush was president. And it's not hard to see why that would be the case. More>>

Uri Avnery: In One Word: Poof!

Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble. In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Poverty Incentive: Making The Poor Carry The Refugee Can

The poorer you are, the more likely you need to shoulder more. This axiomatic rule of social intercourse, engagement and daily living is simple and brutal enough: the poor shall hold, conserve, preserve. More>>

Nureddin Sabir: BBC Misreports John Kerry On Talks Failure

For once, US Secretary of State John Kerry was not mincing his words when he blamed Israel for the breakdown of talks with the Palestinians. But you would not have known this if you were following the story from the BBC News website. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Narendra Modi, And The Elections In India

On the upside, the gigantic election process that began yesterday in India is the largest exercise in democracy on the planet. Reportedly, a staggering five million people are employed, directly or indirectly, in the election process. The likely outcome is not quite so welcome... More>>

ALSO:

Ramzy Baroud: Kerry’s Looming Deadline And The Peace Process Industry

As the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a ‘framework’ agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority looms, time is also running out for the American administration itself. More>>

Harvey Wasserman: Fighting Our Fossil-Nuke Extinction

The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster has brought critical new evidence that petro-pollution is destroying our global ecosystem. The third anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown in Japan confirms that radioactive reactor ... More>>

Shobha Shukla: Rise In Global Health Financing, But Funding Priorities Shift

A new research done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), at the University of Washington, indicates that globally the total development assistance for health (DAH) hit an all-time high of $31.3 billion in 2013 (a year-over-year ... More>>

Get More From Scoop

 
 
TEDxAuckland
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news