As part of a continuous effort to increase drug treatment and education and reduce the amount of people incarcerated due to drug offenses, a study was conducted to examine racial disparity among people with drug charges. Performed by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, the results show that African-Americans were twice as likely to be convicted of drug charges than white people.
What makes this information interesting is that research shows that black and white people appear to use drugs equally. So, if the same amount of black people and the same amount of white people are using drugs, why are black people more likely to be jailed because of it?
This is a question that Governor Kate Brown wants answered. Requesting the study was the first step in determining how to effectively help addicts, while eliminating the one-sided punishment. Brown has offered a proposal in order to close the race gap and help addicts attain long lasting sobriety. The proposal includes dropping some drug possession felonies to misdemeanors and focusing on treatment rather than incarceration. These policies and interventions are newer to the state of Oregon, but there has been a noticeable shift across the country. More and more people are realizing that treatment is much more effective than jail time.
In agreement with Brown, other public officials are speaking out against the racial disparity uncovered by this recent study. “Everyone who uses or possesses (illicit drugs) has committed that crime. Whether or not they are caught is completely different,” explained State Criminal Justice Commission Director Mike Schmidt. Additionally, the Multnomah County District Attorney is also working to reduce the amount of jail time addicts receive and instead replace the sentence with court-mandated, effective treatment.
As a growing number of public officials understand that prisons are not an effective substitute for quality treatment, it is likely that more substance abusers will get a chance to redeem themselves, and return to their families, jobs, friends and lives.