Pubdate: Thu, 6 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
Referenced: the report
Bookmark: (Sentencing - United States)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)


For whatever reasons, Forsyth County is at the top of a new study's 
nationwide list for having the widest disparity between blacks and 
whites going to prison for drug charges. Maybe the county doesn't 
belong at the top of the list, but the study has raised at least two 
questions that local leaders, both in law enforcement and outside it, 
should try to tackle: Is the size of that disparity correct, and, if 
so, what can be done about it?

The study of 198 large counties nationwide was based on 2002 data and 
done by the Justice Policy Institute, a research and advocacy group 
in Washington. The study found that the rate at which black men and 
women went to prison from Forsyth was 164 times higher than that for 
white men and women, Bertrand M. Gutierrez reported in Tuesday's Journal.

That's certainly cause for concern, especially because both a Journal 
investigation and a review by the Winston-Salem Police Department 
have found that black drivers are more likely to be stopped for minor 
traffic violations in the city than white drivers. Answers to why 
that happens have been hard to find.

And so will answers to questions about the new study.

District Attorney Tom Keith said he didn't believe that study was 
correct, suggesting there may be a problem in the way the data was 
reported from the state to the federal government.

Susan Katzenelson, a research criminologist in Raleigh, noted that 
the general overrepresentation of blacks in the criminal-justice 
system raises broader socioeconomic issues, not just questions of 
drug enforcement. "It's an open debate whether minorities actually do 
commit more crimes or whether they're more likely to be arrested," she said.

The new study, however, strongly suggests that the disparities are 
real. For example, it found that, in the counties studied nationwide, 
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. 
Also, the study found that 97 percent of the counties studied had 
racial disparities in drug-admission rates.

One factor in that is money. In the courtroom, money can be a key 
factor in whether a defendant goes to prison, as Steve Hairston, the 
head of the local chapter of the National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People, said. Often, black defendants can't 
afford aggressive lawyers. They face long waits for their cases to be 
heard, and sometimes plead guilty and get prison time just to resolve 
their cases.

Police strategies may figure in the disparity as well. "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."

The new study raises old questions that still demand answers. Forsyth 
County leaders should get to work. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake