Drug courts save lives and money: Virginia Pilot
© April 21, 2009
A national study on prison populations revealed last week that proportionately fewer black offenders are in prison for drug-related crimes than at any time in 20 years. The study by The Sentencing Project found a 22 percent drop in the number of blacks in state prisons between 1999 and 2005 for drug offenses but a 43 percent increase in the number of whites in state prisons for the same crimes.
What does it mean?
It certainly doesn't mean that there's been an end to the lingering disparity in punishment for drug crimes.
Black Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population and somewhere between 30 percent and 35 percent of those cited for drug violations, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. But blacks represent 44 percent of those in prison for drug-related crimes.
Criminal justice experts point to two reasons for the racial shift in prison populations in the past decade. First, police are spending much more time enforcing laws against methamphetamine, used more by white Americans than blacks. Second, the proliferation of drug courts in urban areas has put many black drug offenders in treatment - and recovery - instead of prison.
The effectiveness of drug courts, both in reducing crime and in saving money, argues for even more intervention to break the cycle of drug abuse and incarceration, particularly now, when states are being forced to build more prisons or free some inmates.