Newsday: Study: Newark has highest percentage of drug arrests

Study: Newark has highest percentage of drug arrests
Ugh. Not exactly the kind of headline I look forward to blogging.

More drug arrests are made in Newark proportionally than in any U.S. city according to a study released Monday.

The study published by The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit criminal justice group, found that 39 percent of Newark’s total arrests in 2003 were for drug offenses, up from 8 percent in 1980.

Baltimore had the next highest percentage of drug arrests with 28 percent.

The study found drug arrests of blacks have increased more than 700 percent in the city since 1980.

Newsday fails to note that drug arrests of whites also trended up 458% and that the city overall change was 663% from 1980 to 2003.

This, in fact, is a nationwide trend as cities enacted “war on drugs” policies to more aggressively enforce drug crimes. Nationally, the number of drug offenders in prison has increased 1,100%.

The full report is available from The Sentencing Project on their website: Disparity By Geography: The War on Drugs in America’s Cities.

The study finds, overall, that mandatory minimum sentencing has removed judicial discretion from drug offense sentencing. Because of this, judges cannot make sentencing decisions that take the context of an offense into an account, and the study blames this policy on producing racial disparity in sentencing. The study recommends that more progressive policies are considered for more effective treatment of the drug problem:

In 2005, the number of arrests for drug abuse offenses reached a historic high of nearly 1.8 million. Eight in ten of these arrests were for a possession offense and nearly half were for a violation involving marijuana. While there was an argument to be made in the 1980s that police were targeting higher-level sellers of heroin and cocaine, the 21st century version of the “war on drugs” is defined by low-level arrests, largely for marijuana. There is serious question as to the wisdom of using vast policing resources to make so many low-level arrests, many of which will be dismissed. It has been demonstrated that this approach diverts scarce law enforcement personnel from investigating other types of crime. A number of jurisdictions, including Seattle, Oakland, and Denver, have decided to de-prioritize marijuana possession enforcement in an effort to have police focus on more serious offenses. While this is a promising strategy, it is worthwhile to consider redefining more broadly the role that law enforcement plays in a national drug control strategy. This might include police partnering with social service providers, such as hospitals, shelters, and treatment facilities, to place persons needing assistance in the proper setting, rather than utilizing these services as an afterthought at sentencing. By rethinking the role that law enforcement officers can play in addressing substance abuse in communities of color, we can make progress in reducing racial disparity.

Author: Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Newarker, PCA Elder, Business Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.

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