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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ohio Justice Slammed In Racial Disparity Report: Blacks Far Likelier To Get Prison For Drugs

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A state agency, the Ohio Sentencing Commission, received a quiet briefing last month from a Washington think tank that delivered startling data about drug-crime sentences across the state. The research shows African Americans are 10 to 21 times more likelier to get prison sentences than whites in Ohio's largest counties. That finding now has some officials concerned about the possibility of ingrained racial prejudice in the legal system. Or, is the data somehow flawed? As yet, nobody has stepped forward to say the think tank's data is wildly divergent from reality.

The presentation by the Justice Policy Institute contended there is "racial disparity in the use of prison for drug offenses" and that African-Americans are imprisoned at significantly higher rates. Nationally, the researchers said blacks go to prison at a rate 10 times greater than whites for drug crimes.

The Justice Policy Institute, a non-profit that favors reducing incarceration rates, said drug use among black and white is about the same. Yet more blacks continue to wind up behind bars, a statistic that points to clear racial injustice or some kind of bias in the legal system. prison. It reported these numbers for the state most populous counties:

1. Butler (Middletown, Hamilton) -- blacks are 21 times more likely to go to prison than whites.
2. Stark (Canton) -- blacks 20 times more likely.
3. Lorain (Lorain ) -- blacks 18 times more likely.
4. Franklin (Columbus) -- blacks blacks 14 times more likely.
5. Summit (Akron) -- blacks 13 times more likely.
6. Cuyahoga (Cleveland) -- blacks 12 times more likely.
7. Hamilton (Cincinnati) -- blacks 12 times more likely.
8. Mahoning (Youngstown) -- blacks 11 times more likely.
9. Montgomery (Dayton) -- blacks 11 times more likely.
10. Lucas (Toledo) -- blacks 10 times more likely.

The Daily Bellwether has been told that judges and court officials across Ohio are going to get some kind of summary of the briefing that was hosted to the sentencing commission. Members of that panel are appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court. The panel has no authority to writes laws or change policies, but it can influence the law-making process.

The report was prepared in early December and the data for states and 198 large population counties in the U.S. is available here in full text. According to the presentation made to the Ohio Sentencing Commission, Ohio ranks 10th overall for imprisoning people for drug offenses. The report said blacks and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates.

" . . . counties with higher poverty rates, larger African-American populations and larger police or judicial budgets imprison people for drug offenses at higher rates than counties without these characteristics. These relationships were found to be independent of whether the county actually had a higher rate of crime."

"Researchers attributed disparate practices, disparate treatment before the courts, mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws, and differences in the availability of drug treatment for African Americans compared with whites as reasons for the significant racial disparity seen in drug imprisonment rates."

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