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Racial Disparities and the Drug War

NCJ Number
Destani Esona; Randall G. Shelden
Date Published
34 pages
This paper examines racial disparity amidst the Nation's efforts in the fight against drugs.
It is apparent from the results revealed in this study that race figures prominently in the war on drugs. While African-Americans represent about 12 percent of the total population and use illegal drugs no more than Whites, their arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates for drug offenses far exceed Whites. An argument can be made that the drug war has intentionally targeted African-Americans. In study after study during the past 20 years, racial bias has been repeatedly revealed; however, the findings have been ignored. When the phrase "drug offender" comes to mind, most people, due to a specific image of a typical drug offender portrayed by the mass media and impacting one's perception, associate these specific words with a young African-American male. As a result of this misconception, the criminal justice system is seen as racially biased through the entire prosecution process. To gain a better understanding of racial disparity and its impact throughout the drug war era, this paper examines national statistical information on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, race and illicit drug use, racial differences in drug arrests, drug convictions, and incarceration. Tables, figures, and references