Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
Source: Journal Gazette (IN)
Copyright: 2001 Journal Gazette
Author: Sara Eaton


Although blacks make up a minority of Allen County's population, inside the 
walls of Allen County Jail they are the majority.

The number of black inmates in Allen County Jail, like in many jails 
nationwide, is disproportionate to the number of blacks in the general 

While blacks represent 12 percent of the county's population, they make up 
56 percent of the people in Allen County's correctional institutions, 
according to census figures released last month. In comparison, whites make 
up 83 percent of the county's population and 42 percent of the people 
behind bars.

Correctional institutions by census standards can include state prisons, 
federal prisons, county jails, lockups, military detention centers and 
other adult centers, but in Allen County, it generally refers to the jail, 
at the corner of Superior and Calhoun streets.

Census figures reflect similar racial disparities in many of the state's 
metropolitan areas, including Gary, South Bend and Indianapolis.

The Allen County disparity is blamed on a largely white justice system, the 
urban drug culture or lackluster public defenders who press for a guilty 
plea, depending on who is asked.

Some also blame suspected racial profiling and a lack of bond money among 
many black defendants.

"I don't think more blacks are committing crimes than whites," said the 
Rev. Michael Latham, president of the NAACP Fort Wayne. "It's economics. 
More blacks have public defenders and often accept a plea when they are not 
guilty because they are scared."

A Rocky Relationship

The disparity between black and white inmates, although still large, is not 
as bad as it was years ago, said Allen County Sheriff Jim Herman.

Part of the change is due to more offenders bonding out while awaiting 
trial, he said. However, there are still many who fail to post bond, adding 
to the pool of black inmates, Herman said.

Posting bond essentially is creating an insurance policy and paying the 
premium. To post bond, a person must pay 10 percent of the set bail and 
another person must sign the written policy accepting financial 
responsibility if the offender fails to show up in court.

The relationship between minorities and police in Allen County, especially 
the Fort Wayne Police Department, has been a rocky one. But under the 
current police department administration the relationship seems to be 
improving, Latham said.

In October 1996 the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Concerned 
Ministers of Fort Wayne mailed a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice 
asking for help ending alleged police brutality of minorities.

The results of the federal investigation, which concluded last year, 
revealed no prosecutable practices.

The department also has been under heavy scrutiny by the minority community 
for perceived racial profiling, the practice of selectively enforcing the 
law based on race.

Although Police Chief Rusty York doesn't think racial profiling is the 
cause of the large black inmate population, he participates in community 
meetings and other events to address the issue with minorities.

"These were people that were convicted of a crime by a jury of their peers 
or a judge," he said, of convicted black inmates. "Conviction of breaking a 
law is not racial profiling."

Drugs To Blame

Law enforcement experts and officials say drugs and economics are more 
likely to blame for the large number of black inmates.

Crack cocaine, a relatively inexpensive drug, is often blamed for putting 
more blacks behind bars because it is primarily found in urban, poor areas 
with large black populations, said Deborah Vargas, policy analyst with the 
Justice Policy Institute, a criminal justice think tank based in California 
and Washington D.C.

In addition, urban drug transactions, unlike those found in suburbs, occur 
outside most of the time, making it easier to catch offenders, said Larry 
Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defenders Council.

The result is a heavier police presence in urban areas, increasing the odds 
of being caught committing any type of crime, not just drug offenses, 
Landis said.

"Blacks have to go outside, whereas whites can deal in a more professional 
way, inside a house or office," Latham said. "Some of the black community 
sells to make ends meet. That doesn't make it right, but that's what's 

The money, not the drugs, drew Titus Jackson into dealing cocaine.

"There is no other profession where you go from entry level to CEO 
overnight," said Jackson. "I have three kids. I needed the money. I had to 
do something."

Jackson, a 40-year-old black, pleaded guilty to two counts of dealing 
cocaine and one count of possession of a handgun by a serious violent 
felon. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and currently is in Allen 
County Jail.

After the restaurant where Jackson was working closed, he tried starting 
his own lawn-care business, but he said he still couldn't make ends meet.

With a former felony conviction, also for dealing cocaine, Jackson said 
getting employment was nearly impossible. He again turned to dealing drugs.

A White System

While drugs are blamed for the high black incarceration rate, that does not 
mean blacks are using drugs more than whites. On the contrary, a national 
study in 1998 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services 
Administration, a federal agency, showed that 72 percent of all drug users 
are white and 15 percent are black.

However, about 60 percent of inmates serving time on drug felonies in state 
prisons are black, the survey said.

Although the jail does not keep a breakdown of inmate offenses, Jackson 
said the majority of inmates - many being people he recognizes from his 
southeast Fort Wayne neighborhood - are serving time on drug- related charges.

"I know everybody in there, everybody," he said. "Police are targeting the 
black community. It doesn't take four policemen to throw guns in my face to 
arrest me."

In her five years as an Allen Superior Court judge, Fran Gull said there 
have always been more black defendants than white defendants who appear 
before her.

A white judicial system, often including all-white juries, is an obstacle 
many blacks face, Latham said.

"That would be scary for anyone if you put yourself in their position," he 
said. "If a white person was appointed a black public defender, faced an 
all black jury and faced a black judge, that would be intimidating."

In addition, public defenders - attorneys who are paid with tax dollars to 
represent indigent defendants - too often convince their black clients to 
plead guilty rather than face a trial, Latham said.

But Landis takes issue with that claim, calling Latham's complaint an 

"There may be cases where that happens," Landis said. "As a gross 
condemnation of public defenders, it's simply not justifiable."

Latham said everyone involved with the criminal justice system needs to 
re-examine their actions.

"I would challenge the police officer, prosecutors, judges, public 
defenders and everyone to re-evaluate what they are doing," Latham said. 
"They are good people, but they need to take a second look. Ask themselves 
'Is what I'm doing fair?' "
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth