April 14th, 2009
04:40 PM ET

Number of Blacks in prison for drug offenses declines

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/02/craig-cuffs-release.jpg]
Darryl Fears
The Washington Post

For the first time since crack cocaine sparked a war on drugs 20 years ago, the number of black Americans in state prisons for drug offenses has fallen sharply, while the number of white prisoners convicted for drug crimes has increased, according to a report released today.

The D.C.-based Sentencing Project reported that the number of black inmates in state prisons for drug offenses had fallen from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, a 21.6 percent decline. Over the same period, the number of white drug offenders rose steadily, from 50,700 to more than 72,300, a 42.6 percent increase. The number of Latino drug offenders was virtually unchanged at about 51,000.

The findings represent a significant shift in the racial makeup of those incarcerated for drugs and could signal a gradual change in the demographics of the nation's prison population 2 million, which has been disproportionately black for decades. Drug offenders make up about a quarter of the overall prison population.

The Sentencing Project report and other experts said the numbers could reflect two factors: an increased reliance by prosecutors and judges on prison alternatives such as drug courts, and a shift in police focus to methamphetamines, which are used and distributed mostly by white Americans. In addition, the report said, crack cocaine use has declined steadily since the 1990s, and so have police arrests.


soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. JC-Los Angeles

    Does this mean they are sober when they commit their crimes?

    April 14, 2009 at 9:04 pm |
  2. dina212

    I agree with BJsmith & Anne that adding that by-line would have been fair reporting. As previously mentioned ever since the late 60's caucasian american's have used some type of drug. They were the face of drugs up until the 80's. When crack came around DRUGS became (via the media a "black" thing and it wasn't). The actual drug usage isn't changing among caucasians, they are just now getting more into trouble bc of it and that's fair (albeit long overdue). btw In college I knew a lot of caucasians who took drugs, me a brown/black american never took drugs, neither did my friends. The reason why they took it is because they felt they wouldn't get into trouble for it and that's obviously not the case.

    April 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm |
  3. Lampe

    CNN: How about the number of Blacks in Jail, for Killing other Blacks? What is the ratio of Black Dealers, to White Dealers,as opposed to the ratio of Black Users, to White Users? That might be where the difference ls.

    April 14, 2009 at 8:32 pm |
  4. Anne

    BJSmith, it's more sensational to use blacks in the title. They want to make more ppl read it. Hasn,t that always been the case?

    April 14, 2009 at 6:51 pm |
  5. Sharon S

    Why yet again the Black thing? Why not just Americans? I am sorry to tell you all just as many white boys in jail for the same crimes but for some reason CNN is on a Black American kick ever since Obama got elected, What is up with that?

    April 14, 2009 at 6:05 pm |
  6. Derrick

    Clearly the police target only certain communities when it looks to encarcerate people for drug use and not others. Sorry, Anderson. They do it based on race. Marijuana is still, by a long shot the most widely used illegal drug not crack. And why are cocaine and crack sentencing so skewed. That's a story and you should report on it. Most of the drug use isn't by blacks or latinos so why are they targeted? You're a great reporter. Please discuss this fact. I have faith in your reporting.

    April 14, 2009 at 5:50 pm |
  7. BJSmith

    There's another title for this article and it's in the first paragraph. "The number of white people convicted for drug crimes is on the increase."

    April 14, 2009 at 5:41 pm |
  8. Terry, TX

    No but alex is right....murders and burglarlies have increased....more violent and the increase of illegitimate births are off the charts.....whose fault and responsibility is that.....uh....the perpetrators.

    April 14, 2009 at 5:40 pm |
  9. Mike

    It's because meth use is on the increase and is primarily a crime committed by whites. Also many states have made possession of small amounts of crack cocaine a misdemeanor not a felony which helps reduce the number of black drug felons since crack was their drug of choice. It has nothing to do with previous racism or racist police/court practices.

    April 14, 2009 at 5:39 pm |
  10. Derrick

    Why is the number of blacks incarcerated so high when the number of drug users over all is much higher in white america. That is there are many more white drug users then black drug users yet they seem to allow it in white neighborhoods and not in black and latino ones. Why not apply the law evenly and encarcerate everyone or no one.

    April 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm |
  11. Anne

    Hmm...I wonder why. Maybe b/c someone is actually doing his/her job by not giving some a slap on the wrist & arrest others.

    April 14, 2009 at 5:13 pm |
  12. Alex

    but the number for murders increases

    April 14, 2009 at 4:50 pm |