Pubdate: Sun, 02 Dec 2001
Source: Chapel Hill News (NC)
Copyright: 2001 Chapel Hill News
Author: Robert Sharpe


Ted Vaden's excellent Nov. 25 column highlighted the racial disparities in 
North Carolina's criminal justice system, a problem that is exacerbated by 
the war on some drugs.

The practice of racial profiling is by no means limited to North Carolina. 
United States government statistics reveal that the drug war is being waged 
in a racist manner throughout the nation. Although only 15 percent of the 
nation's drug users are black, blacks account for 37 percent of those 
arrested for drug violations, more than 42 percent of those in federal 
prisons for drug violations, and almost 60 percent of those in state 
prisons for drug felonies.

Support for the drug war would end overnight if whites were incarcerated 
for drugs at the same rate as minorities.

Racially disproportionate incarceration rates are not the only cause for 
alarm. Putting non-violent drug offenders behind bars with hardened 
criminals is a dangerous proposition. Prisons transmit violent habits and 
values rather than reduce them. The vast majority of drug users hold jobs 
and pay taxes.

Rather than waste scarce resources turning potentially productive members 
of society who use illegal recreational drugs into violent criminals, we 
should be funding cost-effective treatment.

At present there is a glaring double standard in place. Alcohol and tobacco 
are by far the deadliest recreational drugs, yet the government does not 
make it their business to destroy the lives of drinkers and smokers. Would 
alcoholics even seek treatment for their illness if doing so were 
tantamount to confessing to criminal activity?

It's time to declare peace in the failed drug war and begin treating all 
substance abuse as the public health problem it is.

Robert Sharpe

Program officer, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation

Washington, D.C 
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