The Justice Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C. has studied the use of drugs and imprisonment for drug use in reference to the race and other factors. It found what it considered disparities in the imprisonment of African-Americans for drug sentencing.
For example, it found that black people are five times more likely to be sentenced to prison than white people in Tulsa County. In Oklahoma County, black people are four times more likely to be imprisoned for drug crimes. Even in San Francisco, California, black people are 28 times more likely to be imprisoned than white people.
In the year 2002, 19.5 million people in the United States admitted to using illegal drugs. In that year, 1.5 million people were arrested on drug charges, and, of those, 175,000 were sentenced to prison. More than half of that 175,000 number were black.
The bulging prisons in Oklahoma and other states are housing more and more drug offenders. Some are drug offenders only, with no violence or other criminal behavior. It costs the taxpayers of Oklahoma $20,000 each year to house each one of those prison inmates.
Of course, drug enforcement officials want tough sentences to helping win the drug war. Drug trafficking charges now carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. What is drug trafficking? Most people would guess that it is selling or buying of drugs. But that is not the case. A drug trafficking charge can actually be made when someone has possession of certain amounts of certain drugs.
For instance, being arrested with more than 5 grams of crack cocaine (worth about $500) is deemed trafficking in Oklahoma. Possession of more than ten grams of heroin (worth about $2,000) or more than 20 grams of methamphetamine (worth about $20,000) or more than 10 pounds of marijuana (worth between $10,000 and $15,000) is deemed trafficking of those drugs. There is no maximum for someone convicted of drug trafficking (first offense).
No politician in Oklahoma wants to appear soft on crime or certainly not soft on drugs. For that reason, the penalties only go up, up. The juries are instructed of the possible penalties, and some juries decide that will send the defendant away as long as they can. With the possible penalties they are given in Oklahoma, the juries are fully empowered to do so. It just depends on the jury.
So, are the drug laws discriminating against African Americans by the disparity in the rate of imprisonment? La-Wanda Johnson, spokeswoman for the Justice Policy Institute, says the disparity is more complicated than politics. She says more critical than race are poverty and unemployment rates, as well as availability of drug treatment and the size of the police department and policing strategies.
What is certain– is that drug charges bring very stiff penalties — and that anyone who finds himself accused of any drug charge must do everything in his power to learn how to get the best defense possible. That’s why I encourage anyone facing this difficult situation to visit my web site and order a complimentary “Protect Your Freedom” Kit to discover how to avoid common mistakes and other critical information. Just go to http://www.netlegalhelp.com/OrderProtectYourFreedomKit.html