Drug offenses have played a greater role in black incarceration than white:
In some individual states, the impact of drug policies on black incarceration has been far greater: for example, in Illinois, the number of black admissions for drug offenses grew six-fold between 1990 and 2000, while the number of whites admitted for drug offenses remained relatively stable.44
Table 1: Prison Admissions for Drug Offenses as a Percentage of All Admissions, by Race and Gender, 2003
Among the 34 states reporting new admissions to the National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) in 2003, there were a total of 111,247 adult men and women who entered state prison that year convicted of drug offensespossession, sales, manufacturing, or other drug related offenses. The new drug offender prison admissions included 59,535 black men and women (53.5 percent of the total) and 37,003 white men and women (33.3 percent of the total). (See Table 2 for the number of prison admissions for drug offenders by race in each of the 34 states, and Figure 2 for the racial composition of drug offender admissions).45
Because the proportion of blacks and whites in state populations varies considerably, rates of admission for drug offenses relative to the black and white population of each state present a clearer picture of the racial impact of drug law enforcement than the racial composition of admissions. According to our analysis of the 2003 admissions, as shown in Figure 3, the total rate of prison admission for blacks in the 34 reporting states46 was 256.2 per 100,000 adult black residents.47 For whites, the rate was 25.3 per 100,000 adults. The black rate of admission has grown much faster than the white rate: between 1986 and 2003 the rate of admission to prison for drug offenses for blacks quintupled; the white rate did not quite triple.48
(Rates calculated per 100,000 residents of each race and gender)
Fig.3: Rates of Prison Admissions for Drug Offenses, by Race, 2003
(Rates calculated per 100,000 residents of each race)
The state rates for drug offender prison admissions for whites ranged from a low of 8 (Wisconsin) to a high of 88.3 (Oklahoma) per 100,000 white residents. (Table 3). The rates for drug offender admissions for blacks ranged from a low of 47.5 (Oregon) to a high of 613.8 (Illinois) per 100,000 black residents. The five states with the highest black drug offender admission rates were Illinois (613.8), South Dakota (526.3), Washington (449.7), New Jersey (409.4), and Oklahoma (392.4). Table 3 also shows that in every one of the 34 states, blacks were sent to prison for drug offenses at far higher rates than whites in that state.
In Figure 4, we present the ratio of black drug admission rates to white drug admission rates in the 34 states. Overall, blacks were sent to state prison for drug offenses in 2003 at 10.1 times the rate of whites. The disparity between black and white rates of admission was lowest in Missouri, where the black rate was still 2.7 times greater than the white rate. In the state with the highest disparity, Wisconsin, blacks entered prison on drug charges at 42.4 times the rate of whites. The rate of black drug offender admissions was more than 20 times that of whites in Illinois (23.6) and New Jersey (20.6). As shown in Table 4, the 10 states with the worst ratios between the rates at which blacks and whites were sent to prison for drug offenses were: Wisconsin (42.4), Illinois (23.6), New Jersey (20.6), Maryland (17.4), West Virginia (16.3), Colorado (14.4), New York (14.3), Virginia (13.2), Pennsylvania (13.1), and Michigan (11.8).
We analyzed the admissions data to determine whether some states send drug offenders of both races to prison at higher rates than other states, even though the drug admission rates of whites and blacks may be of a considerably different magnitude. As shown in Figure 5, there is a weak correlation between drug admission rates for blacks and for whites in each state.49 Illinois and New Jersey, for example, have very high rates of black admissions but relatively low rates of white admissions. Conversely, Alabama and Mississippi have relatively high rates of white admissions and relatively low rates of black admissions. Oklahoma, in contrast, sends both whites and blacks to prison for drug offenses at relatively high rates.
(Rates calculated per 100,000 residents of each race)
(Rates calculated per 100,000 residents of each race)
(Rates calculated per 100,000 adults of each race)
Racial disparities in incarceration for drug offenses are even more evident when the data analysis incorporates gender. As shown in Table 1, drug offenses in 2003 accounted for about two in ten white men entering prison that year (23.9 percent) but nearly four in ten black men (38.3 percent). The differences were less marked among women: drug offenses accounted for 35.9 percent of white women entering prison that year and 36.7 percent of black women.
The proportion of black men sent to prison in 2003 because of drug offenses ranged from a low of one in 10 (Oregon, 11.6 percent) to a high of one in two (New Jersey, 55.1 percent, and Maryland, 50.7 percent). The proportion of white men sent to prison because of drug offenses was never higher than 41.8 percent (Oklahoma).
Drug offenses play a greater role in sending women to prison than men. In seven states (Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin), drug sentences accounted for 50 percent or more of all black women sent to prison in 2003. Convictions for drug offenses accounted for 50 percent or more of the new admissions among white women in three states (North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah).
We computed the prison admission rates for drug offenses per 100,000 adult residents for the 34 NCRP participating states, disaggregating the data by gender and race. As shown in Table 3, the drug admission rates for the 34 states together were 495.5 for black men, 44.0 for black women, 42.1 for white men and 9.1 for white women. Drug admission rates for black men ranged from a low of 66.8 per 100,000 black adult males in Oregon, to a high of 1,227.6 in Illinois. For white men, the rates of drug offender admissions ranged from a low of 14.3 per 100,000 white male adult residents in West Virginia to a high of 143.7 in Oklahoma. The highest black male rate is 8.5 times greater than the highest white male rate. The rates at which black women were sent to prison for drug offenses ranged from a low of 11.0 per 100,000 black female adults in Michigan50 to a remarkably high 387.6 in South Dakota. The lowest rate for white women was 1.9 in Wisconsin and the highest was 35.9 in Oklahoma. (The contrast between the black and white rates for men and women in each state is displayed graphically in Figures 6 and 7).
Among the 34 states, black men were admitted to prison on drug charges at 11.8 times the rate of white men. (Table 5). The lowest ratio of black to white male drug admission rates was 2.1, in Missouri, with the highest in Wisconsin, at 46.1. That is, a black man was twice as likely as a white man to be sent to prison on drug charges in Missouri and 46 times as likely in Wisconsin.
Marked racial disparities exist among female offenders as well, although the magnitude of the disparity is smaller. As seen in Table 5, black women are sent to prison on drug charges at 4.8 times the rate of white women. In five states (Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, South Dakota, and Wisconsin), black women are sent to prison on drug charges at more than 10 times the rate of white women, with the greatest disparities in South Dakota (the rate at which black women entered prison for drug offenses was 20 times greater than that of white women) and Wisconsin (black womens rate was 27.6 times greater than that of white women).
(Rates calculated per 100,000 male residents of each race)
(Rates calculated per 100,000 female residents of each race)
41 Racial disproportions in US incarceration have been extensively documented. For example, black men are incarcerated under state or federal jurisdiction at 6.2 times the rate of white men, and black women are incarcerated at 3.1 times the rate of white women. Sabol, BJS, Prisoners in 2006, Table 10, p. 8. The rate of sentenced prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction per 100,000 residents is 487 for white men, compared to 3,042 for black men. The rate for white women is 48, compared to 148 for black women. Ibid., Appendix, Table 7, p. 23. About one in every 33 black men is a sentenced prisoner, compared to one in every 205 white men. Ibid., p. 8. Approximately 16.6 percent of adult African American men have been in prison, compared to 2.6 percent of white men. Bonczar, Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population 1974-2001, p. 1.
42 Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, Ph.D., BJS, Prisoners in 2001, July 2002, Table 19, p. 13, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/p01.pdf (accessed April 18, 2008).
43 Sabol, BJS, Prisoners in 2006, Table 11, p.8.
44 Lurigio, Disproportionate Incarceration of African Americans for Drug Crimes: The Illinois Perspective, p. 6.
45 Other racial backgroundsIndian American, Asian, Native Hawaiians, otheras well as admissions where race was marked unknown or left blank account for the remainder.
46 The total rate is calculated on the basis of all prison admissions for drug offenses in the 34 states and the combined populations of those states. Throughout this report, totals are calculated on the basis of all the 34 states data combined. They do not reflect averages. We do not know the extent to which the figures for the 34 reporting states would be consistent with figures for the non-reporting states.
47 Throughout this report, all calculations of rates relative to population are based on adult residents in the state. See Chapter IX, Methodology.
48 In 1986 the rate of admission for blacks for drug offenses was 49 per 100,000 black adults, and for whites it was 9 per 100,000 white adults. Vincent Schiraldi, Barry Holman, and Phillip Beatty, The Sentencing Project, Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States, p. 7, http://www.cjcj.org/drug/ (accessed April 24, 2008). See also Pamela E. Oliver, Ph.D., Racial Patterns in State Trends in Prison Admissions 1983-2003: Drug and Non-drug Sentences and Revocations, http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~oliver/RACIAL/StateTrends/RacialPatterns_Intro_National.pdf (accessed February 19, 2008). Dr. Oliver uses data from the National Corrections Reporting Program to develop national and state-by-state graphs depicting prison admissions for participating states over a 20-year period.
49 If there were a robust correlation, the states would cluster closely along a line rising diagonally from a low on the left side of the figure to a high on the right side.
50 Excluding New Hampshire, which had an admission rate of zero for black women.