Pubdate: Tue, 4 Dec 2007
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
Copyright: 2007 Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.
Note: The Journal does not publish LTEs from writers outside its 
circulation area
Author: Bertrand M. Gutierrez, Journal Reporter
Referenced: the report
Bookmark: (Sentencing - United States)


Black-White Disparity Found

A new study that compares the nation's largest counties puts Forsyth
County at the top of its list as having the widest disparity between
blacks and whites going to prison on drug charges.

The study, released today, was done by the Justice Policy Institute, a
research and advocacy group in Washington. Jason Ziedenberg, the
executive director, said yesterday that the purpose of the study was
to start a debate about who is going to prison and for what reasons.

"Every community has a nexus of issues going on," Ziedenberg

"It could be that poverty rate has an impact on that. Maybe the way
drug laws are being enforced, maybe it's being done in areas where
African Americans live," he said. "The issue we tried to raise is of
the disparity."

The data came from the National Corrections Reporting Program and the
U.S. Census Bureau, and the study focuses on who got sent to prison in
2002 on a drug charge as the more serious offense. It does not count,
for example, those who were sent to prison with a drug charge that got
trumped by a more serious murder charge.

Researchers looked at the number of black men and women sent to prison
on a drug charge in counties and some large cities with more than
250,000 people.

To compare counties as small as Forsyth with one as large as Pinellas
County in Florida, they divided that number by the county's black
population in 2002 and multiplied it by 100,000. And they used the
same method for white men and women.

Based on that formula, the rate for black people sent to prison on
drug charges in Forsyth County was 72, and the rate for white people
was 0.44. The rate at which black men and women went to prison was 164
times larger than that for white men and women, according to the study.

The lower prison-entry rate among whites was common among the five
North Carolina counties included in the study.

Of the 198 counties compared in the study, Forsyth, Guilford,
Cumberland, Wake and Mecklenburg counties took places in the top 20
spots as having the lowest rates of white people going to prison on
drug charges. Among the study's other findings:

. Blacks and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates, but blacks
are 10 times more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug offenses.

. Of the 175,000 admitted to prison nationwide in 2002, more than half
were black, even though blacks make up less than 13 percent of the
U.S. population.

.  97 percent of the counties had racial disparities in drug-admission

The general overrepresentation of blacks in the criminal-justice
system raises broader socioeconomic issues, not just questions of drug
enforcement, said Susan Katzenelson, a research criminologist in Raleigh.

"It's an open debate whether minorities actually do commit more crimes
or whether they're more likely to be arrested," she said.

District Attorney Tom Keith of Forsyth County said he did not believe
that the study was correct, suggesting that there may be a problem in
the way the data were reported from the state to the federal
government. He also said that the study does not break down the
numbers by ethnic groups.

However, Keith agreed that there is an overrepresentation of blacks in
state prisons.

"It's where the cops go and where the crime comes from," Keith said.
"That's got to do with arrest policy. All we do is prosecute."

Lee Garrity, the Winston-Salem city manager, declined to comment
because he had not read the report.

Law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors sometimes are caught in a
bind, Keith said. People want more police presence in high-crime
neighborhoods. But people in the same neighborhoods might complain
that police are being too aggressive.

In some neighborhoods, he said, crime is happening in the light of day
and can't be ignored, though he also said that studies show that white
people buy and use drugs as much as black people.

"If you're going to be in a more visible place to sell (drugs), you're
going to get arrested," Keith said. "There's less chance at Wake
Forest University ... or Lewisville. There's just as much stuff going
at someone's home, but there's not as much visibility."

Steve Hairston, the president of the local chapter of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that money can
be a key factor in whether someone goes to prison or gets a plea deal
without a prison sentence.

Some people don't have the money to pay an aggressive attorney to get
their case resolved. Some sit in jail, sometimes for years, waiting
for their case to come up. Those without money sometimes take plea
deals just to resolve the case, he said.



The chart shows how five North Carolina counties with populations of
more than 250,000 ranked for disparity in sending black people to
prison on drug charges vs. white people. The study is based on 2002
data. Forsyth County had the biggest disparity among 198 counties and
cities in the survey across the nation.

Forsyth 1

Wake 21

Guilford 38

Cumberland 113

Mecklenburg 192
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake