DISPARITY IN DRUG INCARCERATION 1
The war on drugs has attracted the attention of various stakeholderswho are earnest in protecting citizens from drug use. However, it hasalso become an insidious issue since it has resulted in theincarceration of minority groups for being in possession of drugs.The Blacks, Latinos and other low-income populations have been softtargets for drug enforcement officers. Their ever-expandingpopulation in the prison confirms that they are incarcerated morethan the whites, despite being the minorities in the society (Bobo &Thompson, 2006). Although the war on drugs has a primary objectiveof protecting citizens in equal measure, its implementation hasincreased the number of blacks and Latinos going to prison.
The Anti-drug Abuse passed by the Congress in 1986 ushered a seriesof racial discrimination of the offenders being imprisoned for drugpossession and use (Kain, 2011). The Congressional Black Caucusconsidered it as a move targeting the blacks who are more likely touse cocaine than the whites are. According to the Kain (2011),possessing 5 grams of cocaine could attract a mandatory sentence of 5years in a federal prison. The conventional knowledge that the blacksare more likely to use drugs than the whites are makes them softtargets for security operatives since 1980. A study conducted by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union in 2013 indicated that the blacks arethree times likely to be incarcerated for drugs than the whites (Bobo& Thompson, 2006). The study also found out that although theAfrican-Americans comprise 13% of the American population, they make74% of all the offenders taken to prison for illegal activitiesrelated to drugs (Kain, 2011). The war on drugs has resulted in theincarceration of a big number of Blacks. According to the Bureau ofStatistics, the African-American children are overrepresented in thefamily courts as a result of being driven out of their families inhordes (Pettit & Western, 2004). They are placed under thefederal system after the incarceration of their parents.
Also, the drug transactions among the Blacks are easier forauthorities to target because they usually occur in the public domainas opposed to the transactions among the whites, which are usuallysecret. As a consequence to the increased and particularincarcerations, out of the 25.4 million people who have been arrestedfor possessing drugs in the country, a third of them were black (Kain, 2011).According to the Human Rights Watch, the disparity ofoffenders incarcerated for drugs differs within the states. In somestates, the blacks are 67 times more likely to be arrested andcharged than the whites. In Georgia, the blacks consist of 29% of thepopulation. Surprisingly, they form 54% of the offenders in prison(Kain, 2011). In North Carolina, the population of the blacks inprison is 64% despite them making only 22% of the population.Mississippi and Louisiana form the bulk of the Blacks in prison width75 and 76% respectively (Kain, 2011).
The high number of arrests and incarcerations of African-Americansand Latinos is not a reflection of the increased prevalence of druguse and peddling in the neighborhoods dominated by these communities.According to Kain (2011), it is a reflection of an intensive lawenforcement and stigmatization of the populations living in denselypopulated and low-income urban areas. The sentencing of individualsfound in possession of crack cocaine has been particularly on highsince the 1980s (Pettit, B., & Western, 2004). The penalty forthe drug is extremely high compared to that of powder cocaine. TheAfrican Americans have ease of access to crack cocaine than thepowder cocaine that is usually associated with the whites. Therefore,the Blacks and the Latinos become victims of the 100:1 disparity(Pettit & Western, 2004).
The states have also implemented the sentence enhancement zones nearlearning institutions. The radius of the areas differs in variousstates. The severity of the sentence given to individuals foundpossessing drugs varies depending on how close they are to thelearning institutions. The activities of minors are mostly restrictedin these areas. Since the focus of the security organs lies on thezones, minors who possess drugs always find themselves in the policenet. Offenders found in possession of drugs spend between 3 and 12years in prison (Kain, 2011). The increased incarcerations have notdeterred the use of drugs significantly. Precisely, it has itcontinued to increase the number of citizens in prison or underparole. On average, the taxpayers incur 67 dollars to cater for thedaily needs of those in prison (Kain, 2011). Also, when theactivities target the low income groups, it amplifies the householdproblems especially when the breadwinners are incarcerated.
The Drug-Free Zone policy has been under heavy criticism for the highnumber of Blacks and Latino youths going to prison for possessingdrugs. While the law is not discriminative in its application, theconditions that the colored community lives in makes the childrensusceptible to its severe application. According to Kain (2011), mostof them live in crowded communities with a big number of schools andday care centers. The Sentence Enhancement Areas overlap because ofthe proximity of the schools. Therefore, children are always inDrug-free Zones. For example, in Bridgeport, there are 37 publicschools and their drug free zones overlap. More than 92% of thepopulation lives within the Drug-Free Zones. Also, a study conductedin New Jersey indicated that 96% of the minors incarcerated wereBlacks and Latinos (Kain, 2011). In a community such as Bridgeport,the presence of the schools attracts many drug peddlers who woo newclients into their business. The vulnerability of the minors tocoupled with living within the Drug-Free Zones increase their chancesof going to prison.
In conclusion, the war on drugs the war drugs has a primary objectiveof protecting citizens from drugs. However, its implementation hasincreased the disparity in the racial backgrounds of people beingincarcerated. The drug policies including the Drug-Free Zones andSentence Enhancement Zones have predisposed minorities to the fulleffect of the law on drugs. The states adopted the rules andestablished drug –free zones in which ones faces a tough punishmentif found in possession of drugs. It ranges from 1000 to 1500 feet indifferent states Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). The severityof the punishment which is usually between 3 and 12 years depends onhow close the culprit is to the institution. The availability ofdrugs in the neighborhoods makes the minors vulnerable to the law.Unlike the whites, Blacks and Latinos are easily followed andarrested by the law enforcers. The policy that was intended touniformly protect the citizens became the cause of inequality. Thedrugs targeted by the law enforcement agencies including crackcocaine are common among the Blacks. They are, therefore, softtargets for law enforcement officers. The war on drugs does notuniformly address the issue in the society, and it has discriminatedthe minority groups.
Kain, E. (2011,28 June). The war on drugs is a war on minorities and the poor. TheForbes Magazine. Retrieved on 17 May 2016 fromhttp://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/06/28/the-war-on-drugs-is-a-war-on-minorities-and-the-poor/#5c24758c34b6
Pettit, B., &Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life course: Race andclass inequality in US incarceration. American sociologicalreview, 69(2), 151-169.
Bobo, L. D., &Thompson, V. (2006). Unfair by design: The war on drugs, race, andthe legitimacy of the criminal justice system. Social Research,445-472.