Study finds disparities in jailing of whites, blacks

A rare opportunity to learn about local drug law enforcement relative to other regional and national numbers. The good news is that incarceration rates for drug crimes are low. The bad news is that there is troubling racial disparity in the rates.

Blacks are jailed on drug offenses in Washtenaw County at 42 times the rate of whites, placing the county within the top 10 nationwide in racial disparity, a recent study concluded.

The Justice Policy Institute study showed that, when broken down by race, nearly three white offenders per 100,000 residents are incarcerated on drug charges – compared to 112 black offenders per 100,000 residents.

But local officials are skeptical about the study’s results and are compiling their own data as they study local trends in the criminal justice system.

Washtenaw was one of seven Michigan counties included in the study, titled the “Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties.” Washtenaw topped the other Michigan counties in terms of the racial disparity ratio.

Among the other findings of the study:

  • Washtenaw is listed among the top 10 counties nationwide with lowest overall drug admission rates, at 17.05 per 100,000 residents.
  • In 2002, 19.5 million Americans admitted to using drugs. During the same year, about 1.5 million were arrested on drug charges. Of those arrested, 175,000 were sentenced to prison, and more than half those were black.