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Is the War on Drugs Racially Biased?

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime and Justice Volume: 32 Issue: 2 Dated: 2009 Pages: 49-75
Ojmarrh Mitchell
Date Published
27 pages
This study examined whether racial disparities in arrest and incarceration could be explained by racial differences in drug offending.
The evidence demonstrates that the observed racial disparities in drug arrests and sentencing outcomes can not be explained by differential involvement in drug offending. It is argued that these racial disparities in drug sanctioning are better explained by the policy decision to dramatically increase the number of arrests of street-level drug offenders, the more public nature of African-American drug offending, and cultural stereotypes that link African-Americans to drug crimes. Most fundamentally, the growth in racial disparities was the product of the war on drugs focus on architects' decision to tout street-level drug enforcement as the best tool to restore a sense of order and civility calling for an increase in the number of drug offenders arrested. The existing empirical evidence suggests that the racial disparities exacerbated by the war on drugs are more likely due to political expediency and racialized politics. The war on drugs popularized aggressive law enforcement tactics and punitive sanctions aimed at low-level drug offenders, affecting Americans of all races. This research study examined whether the massive racial disparities in the war on drugs was evidence that the criminal justice system "unjustly punished" African-Americans or were these disparities attributable to differences by race in drug offending. Table, figures, notes, and references