Pubdate: Tue, 06 May 2008
Source: Tucson Citizen (AZ)
Copyright: 2008 Tucson Citizen
Author: Eric Sagara and Sheryl Kornman


Study: Disparities Seen, Especially For Blacks

A group advocating reform of the criminal justice system recommends
that large U.S. cities examine how they handle the war on drugs, given
a study showing broad disparities from city to city in arrest rates,
especially among blacks.

Tucson tops the list for overall percentage increases in drug arrests
and increases in arrests of blacks, says The Sentencing Project's
45-page study, "Disparity by Geography, The War on Drugs in America's
Cities." The Washington D.C.-based group examined drug arrest rates in
43 cities with populations greater than 250,000 between 1980 and 2003.
The results were made public Monday.

The study said the rate of drug arrests in Tucson per 100,000
population increased 887 percent between 1980 and 2003 and the rate
for arrests of blacks increased 1,184 percent.

The study found that blacks in Tucson are about 2 1/2 times more
likely to be arrested for a drug offense than whites.

Other key findings of the report include:   The number of people in
jail or prison for drug offenses in the United States increased 1,100
percent between 1980 and 2003, from 41,000 to 493,800.   Growth in
drug arrests varied from city to city. The 10 cities with the
strongest growth in arrests saw rate increases of more than 500
percent in the study period. The bottom 10 percent of cities in the
study had rate increases of about 50 percent.

   The wide variation indicates that local decisions on how to enforce
drug laws, not the overall rates of drug use, are responsible for the
disparity. Study author Ryan S. King said in an interview with the
Tucson Citizen the fact that "such a significant number of
African-Americans are arrested should make this a critical concern for
the broader Tucson community."

The report recommends that cities emphasize reducing the demand for
drugs through addiction treatment and counseling rather than supply
reduction methods such as arrests of drug users and suppliers. It says
that the reliance on drug arrests for the past 28 years has been
ineffective because the demand for drugs remains as high as ever.
Meanwhile, enforcement methods have created distrust and antipathy
toward law enforcement agencies in minority communities, where much of
the "war on drugs" has been fought even though studies show blacks and
whites use illicit drugs at about the same rate, the study said. The
study uses population estimates derived from figures provided with the
FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for Tucson, King said. Racial breakdowns
are reported as percentages in that data and do not include ethnic
breakouts, King said. That means Hispanics likely were reported as
white in the FBI data, he said.

In addition, data were not available for 1980, so population estimates
for 1990 were used to project what the demographic makeup of
communities throughout the nation looked like 10 years earlier.

"We actually sort of backdated that, so it could potentially have
moved in one way or another," King said.

Blacks consistently accounted for about 4.7 percent of the Tucson
population throughout the years he had data for, King said. "The fact
is that you know you have pretty limited racial disparity in Tucson,"
King said.

The arrest rates were calculated on a per-person basis, or per 100,000
people of each racial subgroup.

This means that the drug arrest rate for blacks of 4,381 per 100,000
in 2003 may appear skewed because there are fewer than 100,000 blacks
living in the area.

King said there were 707 whites and 49 blacks arrested in 1980 on drug
charges in Tucson according to FBI data. In 2003, 5,609 whites and 977
blacks were arrested in the city on such charges.

The Tucson Police Department declined comment on the study. "We want
an opportunity to confirm the data before we can provide a response on
it," said Capt. Clayton Kidd, a spokesman. Poverty and the way some
blacks sell drugs may be factors in the increasing drug arrest rate,
King said.

"Socio-economics has an impact of where law enforcement concentrates
in its communities," he said.

Whites tend to use an established network when buying and selling
drugs; minorities seem to favor the more high-profile
stranger-to-stranger drug market, King said.

"I think there's a number of factors but I do think that the very
public nature of African- American drug markets certainly do make it
easier to make arrests," King said.

Law enforcement is "quite obviously targeting the African- American
community and I do think that the ease of arrest is contributing to
that," he said. "These are conscious policy decisions that are made.
It's more than just a pure reflection of who is using drugs." Tucson's
percentage increases put it at the top of the list, but King said what
appears to be happening here is happening across the country. "There's
got to be ways to get people into treatment and get them into services
without using law enforcement. Law enforcement is not appropriately
trained (to deal with this). They get the person off the street and
ensure the safety of the person and the community," he said. "But
broadly, when you look across all of the cities (in the study) and
take a national perspective, there is something going on here. These
are symptoms of other failures in other spheres of society: education,
economic development, urban planning and health care. When all other
segments of society fail, the criminal justice system is the measure
of that." "We need to take this discussion into an area of solutions."
Neal Cash, president and chief executive officer of the Community
Partnership for Southern Arizona, agreed with King. The partnership is
the regional nonprofit agency chosen by the state Department of Health
Services to oversee the annual distribution of millions of dollars in
publicly funded substance abuse and mental health treatment services
for thousands of low-income adults and children in five southern
Arizona counties. Cash said that "the big issue here related to this
is, where are we spending our resources?"

"Historically, two-thirds (of public funding) goes to interdiction and
law enforcement and one-third, at best, goes for prevention and
treatment. "As far as I'm concerned, if you look at the whole issue
about the war on drugs, there aren't enough resources for prevention
and treatment. It's not been a secret. That's been the policy of our
country for decades on allocating resources."

King's study had the same conclusion. "For many people of limited
means, the first opportunity to enter drug treatment may come as a
result of being arrested then diverted to a treatment program," King
wrote. "Shifting our national drug control strategy to emphasize
demand-reduction is crucial to addressing racial disparity. This also
requires the recasting of drug abuse as a public health challenge and
not the exclusive domain of criminal justice practitioners."

Cash pointed to one of the efforts under way in Tucson to reduce the
numbers of blacks and other minorities - Hispanics and American
Indians - in the criminal justice system.

The Community Partnership for Southern Arizona is a partner in the
Disproportionate Minority Juvenile Contact Initiative aimed at
reducing the numbers of blacks, Hispanics and American Indians in the
juvenile justice system by providing the youths with substance abuse
and behavioral health services.

Pima County Juvenile Court officials said that when the program began
in March 2005, black youths were the most over-represented minority in
juvenile detention.

The court had a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey
Foundation to work with the community partnership and to look for
alternatives to incarceration with community-based groups such as
after-school programs and the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Marica Rincon-Gallardo, a social worker with the juvenile court, said
there has been a slight drop in average daily population but "the
disproportionality of youth of color - African-American, Native
American and Latino youths - in terms of percentages continues to
remain constant." She said the court is "committed to continue to
working on this issue." Dan Ranieri, executive director and chief
operating officer of La Frontera Center, a publicly funded provider of
substance abuse and behavioral health treatment here, said 6 percent
of clients in 2007 - about 1,000 people - were black.

He said "the vast majority" of clients ordered by the courts to
undergo substance abuse treatment are white. "They have to go through
treatment in order to retain custody of their kids."

Ranieri points out that "there is no difference by race in the
completion of services" and also no difference by race in the outcome
for clients.
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