Pubdate: Sun, 27 Apr 2008
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
Copyright: 2008 Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.
Author: Bertrand M.  Gutierrez
Note: The Journal does not publish LTEs from writers outside its 
circulation area


Group Says It Reported Incorrect Prison Rates For Blacks, Whites

A Washington-based advocacy group reported last December that Forsyth
County led the nation's largest counties in having the widest
disparity in the rate at which blacks and whites go to prison on
drug-related charges.

The disparity remains, with more blacks going to prison on drug
charges than whites, but the national disparity isn't as wide as
originally reported by the Justice Policy Institute. And it also turns
out that Forsyth County does not have the widest disparity in the nation.

The Justice Policy Institute said earlier this year that it had based
its report on faulty data.

"As a result of a data-transmission error between the N.C. Department
of Corrections and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National
Corrections Reporting Program provides incorrect prison admissions
information for counties in that state for 2002," the Justice Policy
Institute said.

The first report said that the rate at which blacks in Forsyth County
go to prison on drug charges was 164 times higher than the rate at
which whites go to prison on such charges. But the institute's latest
findings say that the rate at which blacks go to prison is 17.4 times
higher than the rate for whites, "a disparity that is smaller than
originally reported, though still large."

Likewise, the research group revised drug-admission rates for North
Carolina's other largest counties. Among the state's five largest:
Cumberland County had the smallest disparity rate, with 4.7.
Wake County had the largest disparity rate, with 24.7
Guilford and Mecklenburg counties had similar disparity rates, with
13.8 and 12.7, respectively. Mecklenburg's rate was the only one of
the five counties to be changed to a larger number.

Forsyth County had the second-largest disparity rate in the state
among the five largest counties.

Because the Justice Policy Institute got bad data, it had
underestimated the rate of drug admissions for the five counties.
Specifically, rates of admission to prison for drug offenses were
underestimated for the total population, the white population and the
black population.

The institute changed its findings after Tom Keith, the Forsyth County
district attorney, pointed out the error.

All along, Keith said, Forsyth prosecutors have tried to carry out
justice without bias.

"I only prosecute those arrested. I don't pick the population," he
said in a letter to a Winston-Salem Journal reporter.

Still, Keith acknowledged that the disparity gap in Forsyth County
remains wide.

And the revised numbers didn't alleviate concerns among some in the
black community. Living in the county with the second-largest
disparity rate in North Carolina is not something to get excited
about, said the Rev. Carlton Eversley, the pastor of Dellabrook
Presbyterian Church.

"It sounds like a slight adjustment in these terrible statistics, but
it doesn't change the central fact that white people go to rehab and
black people go to prison.!- If you stick a knife into my back 9
inches and then pull it out 3 inches, that is not progress," Eversley
said this week, using a phrase from the civil-rights leader Malcolm X.
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