HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html High Black Prison Population Tied To Drug Policies
Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jul 2001
Source: Spokesman-Review (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Spokesman-Review
Author: Rebecca Cook, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


Census Figures Show Total Incarcerated Population Increased 98 Percent Over 

OLYMPIA - Prison and jail population in Washington doubled over the past 
decade, according to census figures released today, and black men and women 
were incarcerated at a disproportionately high rate.

Black men in Washington make up only 3 percent of the male population, but 
18 percent of the male population behind bars.

"The overwhelming majority of those are fathers," said Shirl E. Gilbert, 
president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Tacoma. "You 
build, then, the continuing cyclical nature of poverty. ... The impact on 
the minority community is enormous."

The 2000 Census counted 28,871 people in state and federal prisons, local 
jails, military jails and correctional halfway houses in Washington. The 
incarcerated population increased 98 percent, while total state population 
grew 21percent over the same decade.

Census data show that 4.6 percent of all black men in Washington are 
imprisoned. The figure falls to 2.2 percent for American Indians, 1.3 
percent for Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, 0.7 percent for whites and 0.4 
percent for Asians.

Experts say drug policies explain the racial disparities. In Washington 
prisons alone, 22 percent of inmates were convicted of drug crimes. Law 
enforcement usually targets urban, black neighborhoods for drug busts -- 
despite equal amounts of drug use across racial lines.

"Police officers make arrests where they're easiest. That's usually in 
low-income neighborhoods in inner-city communities," said Hubert Locke, 
professor emeritus at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School 
of Public Affairs. "It's a lot easier to target the kid on the street 
corner peddling crack than the people who supply attorneys downtown or 
provide cocaine for suburban parties."

Courts, attorneys and law enforcement agencies know this. A study of 3,000 
drug arrests, released in May by Harvard University's Kennedy School of 
Government, found that while blacks constitute only 6 percent to 7 percent 
of drug users in King County, they account for 57 percent of adult drug 
arrests. Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said he was not surprised by 
the findings, and that police tend to target open-air drug markets.

Drug policies discriminate in other ways, too. For example, possessing 
5grams of crack, a drug prevalent in black neighborhoods, will get you the 
same federal sentence as being caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine, a 
drug more popular with whites.

Washington's figures follow a national trend -- in fact, the prison 
population is more racially proportionate in Washington than in many other 
states. For example, in Connecticut, black men are 3percent of the 
population but 47 percent of the prisoners. In Alabama, blacks are 26 
percent of the population and 62.5percent of the prison inmates.

Rep. John Lovick of Mill Creek, a Washington State Patrol sergeant and one 
of two black legislators in Washington, said that in his experience black 
defendants often don't get as good a defense as whites, for economic reasons.

"Money, at times, buys justice," he said.

Lovick believes the state should offer more alternative sentencing and 
treatment of nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, as well as do more with 

"Unfortunately a lot of violent criminals are not in jail because we have 
to make room for drug offenders," Lovick said. "The war on drugs is just 
simply not working."

The effect of the high incarceration rates for blacks is devastating, 
especially to black children, Lovick said: "This is what they see and hear 
and sometimes, they start to believe it. I try to be a positive role model, 
to let them know that frankly, there is hope."
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