A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) today documents racial disparities in the country’s growing prison population. According to prison admission statistics in 1996, nearly double the amount of African American men and women are being imprisoned for drug offenses than are white drug users, even though there are five times more white drug users than there are black ones. Due to the disproportionate imprisonment of black people for drug offenses, African Americans are sent to prison at 8.2 times the rate of whites. “Black and white drug offenders get radically different treatment in the American justice system. This is not only profoundly unfair to blacks, it also corrodes the American ideal of equal justice for all,” stated Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The HRW report asserts that law enforcement agencies focus a large part of their resources on fighting drug activity in low-income, African American neighborhoods where the buying and selling of drugs takes place on the street, rather than in white neighborhoods where drug sales and use often take place behind closed doors. To remedy the racial disparity in imprisonment, the Human Rights Watch suggests repealing mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenders, increasing drug treatment, and eliminating racial profiling as a police tactic.