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Study Shows Racial Disparity in Drug Related Offenses

By aaroncynic in News on Feb 1, 2011 2:35PM

2009_11_16_prison02.jpg A study released yesterday by a state commission revealed African Americans convicted of low level drug related charges are five times more likely to go to prison than whites in Illinois. The Sun Times reports the study started in 2008 by the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission found that 19 percent of American American defendants were sentenced to prison, while only 4 percent of whites were sent to prison for Class 4 drug possession crimes. The disparity widens in Cook County, where African American defendants are eight times more likely to face jail time for the same crime.

Pamela Rodriguez, President of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, who provided research for the study, said “When it comes to arrests and prosecution for drug crimes, racial disproportionality affects communities in urban, suburban, and rural areas across Illinois. The problem of disproportionate incarceration undermines the fundamental principles of a just society. It also creates a burden for every taxpayer.” Co-chair of the commission Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) said “We need to change certain policies and practices so that justice is administered fairly across racial and ethnic lines.”

Not everyone agrees with the results of the study. The LA Times reports Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez criticized the report for not investigating the reasons behind repeat offenders. Representative Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) said the study didn't take gang affiliation into account. The report also included a list of recommendations such as expungement and sealing procedures for Class 4 charges that meet specific post conviction criteria, the creation of task force to review the state's “drug free zone laws” and support for diversionary programs and sentencing alternatives.