Pubdate: Tue, 6 May 2008
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2008 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. st
Author: Frank Green


Two studies show state, Virginia Beach more likely to arrest, imprison

Two studies contend that racially disparate effects of the war on
drugs are more evident in Virginia and Virginia Beach than in most of
the country.

Human Rights Watch found that nationally in 2003, black adults were 10
times more likely per capita to be sent to prison for drug crimes than
whites. In Virginia, the rate was 13.2 times more likely --
eighth-highest among the 34 states studied.

A report by The Sentencing Project on 43 of the nation's largest
cities found that from 1980 to 2003, the drug-arrest rate for blacks
rose 729 percent while the white rate dropped 24 percent.

The Sentencing Project said the likelihood of blacks being arrested on
drug charges compared with whites in Virginia Beach increased during
that period by a factor of more than 10 -- the largest among the
cities examined.

"These trends come not as the result of higher rates of drug use among
African-Americans, but, instead, the decisions by local officials
about where to pursue drug enforcement," asserted Ryan S. King, policy
analyst for The Sentencing Project.

Virginia Beach police yesterday questioned the study's data, which
used 1990 census figures for the 43 cities. In 1990, Virginia Beach
was less than 14 percent black, compared with about 20 percent now.

Among other things, Virginia Beach also has a large number of tourists
and nearly one third of all felony and misdemeanor arrests there are
of people who live elsewhere.

Jerry W. Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general, secretary of
public safety and federal prosecutor, said that, during the period
from 1980 to 2003, authorities were faced with growing violent crime
and gang problems in inner cities.

"Correctly, the law-enforcement communities focused resources on the
crime areas in an effort to better protect their citizens. This
targeting of criminal hot-spots led to decreasing violent crimes," he

Richmond was in the midst of crack-cocaine violence in the 1980s and
1990s, which led to the arrest of many blacks who were sentenced to
long prison terms. In 1994, Richmond led the nation in per-capita
homicides, with 161. By 1999 there were 74, and last year it was 55.

Nevertheless, another former Virginia attorney general, Mark L.
Earley, now president of Prison Fellowship, called the
disproportionate representation of minorities in prison an unfortunate

"Of the 2.3 million behind bars in the U.S., over 900,000 are
African-Americans. As I visit prisons across the U.S., it presents a
haunting visual image," said Earleyf.

"Mass incarceration is a hidden crisis, and the interests of justice
demands urgent attention by national, state, and local officials,"
Earley said. He said that turning things around will require more drug
treatment both outside and inside prisons.

King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia Conference of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said,
"It's appalling, it's very frightening, but it's not surprising." He
agrees that many inner-city residents fear for their safety and
welcome police protection.

However, he said the solution is not sending more people to prison. "I
don't know what it is going to take for people to recognize it's time
for a change," he said.

The reports do not allege racism. But, says the Human Rights Watch
report, "the emphasis on penal sanctions, for example, cannot be
divorced from widespread and deeply rooted public association of
racial minorities with crime and drugs."

According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, as of June 30,
2006, just under 22 percent of the men and women entering Virginia's
prisons and 14 percent of those being held there had a drug crime as
their most serious offense.

More than 62 percent of the state's 36,000 inmates that year were
black, while blacks account for roughly 20 percent of the state
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