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Race Statistics, Drug Addiction and Prison

Reports vary concerning the proportion of U.S. prisoners between whites, blacks and Hispanics. Some say that the proportions are nearly equal involving sentences of one-plus years in state prisons for a drug-related offense. The most serious offense for 206,300 of those 1,316,409 inmates involves illegal drugs. What might come as a surprise – due to sensationalized media reports – is that prison composition statistics from 1990 to 2014 actually reveal a reduction in the percentage of African-Americans among convicts overall.1

Disproportionate Number of Convictions: What Does It Suggest?

Hands on jail barsStill, while recognizing that men greatly outnumber women in the jails and prisons, the incarceration rate for black males remains 3.8 to 10.5 times greater at each age group than for white males and 1.4 to 3.1 times greater than the rate for Hispanic males. The largest disparity between white and black male prisoners occurs among inmates of 18 to 19 years of age. For black men in their 30s, one in ten is in jail or prison on any given day.2

“The main obstacle to getting black America past the illusion that racism is still a defining factor in America is the strained relationship between young black men and police forces,” observes John McWhorter, author of How the War on Drugs Is Destroying Black America. “The massive number of black men in prison stands as an ongoing and graphically resonant rebuke to all calls to ‘get past racism,’ exhibit initiative, or stress optimism. And the primary reason for this massive number of black men in jail is the ‘war on drugs.’”

Therefore, he concludes, if this war could be terminated, racial friction in the American social fabric “would no longer exist and our country would be a better place for all.”3

Imprisonment for Drug Use and Trafficking: What Is Gained and Lost?

Under harsh sentencing guidelines, such as ‘three-strikes and you’re out,’ a high proportion of young black and Hispanic men are imprisoned for life as a result of a history of untreated addiction and several prior drug-related offenses. This situation is leaving states to absorb the staggering cost of not only constructing additional prisons to accommodate the growing number of prisoners who will never be released, but also warehousing them into old age.

Furthermore, the collateral damage of these statistics is this: 1 in 15 African-American children, 1 in 42 Latino children, and 1 in 111 Caucasian children have a parent in prison. In some areas, a large majority of African American men – 55 percent in Chicago, for example – are labeled felons for life. Even if they make it out of the “big house,” felons typically find acquiring gainful employment very challenging. In addition, they may be prevented from accessing public housing, student loans and other public assistance.1

So, with history indicating that the challenges leading a person to prison – such as drug addition, alcoholism, untreated mental illnesses, and a lack of employment opportunities – are actually made worse by incarceration, prison time contributes not only to further financial desperation, but also a loss of family and social ties.4

Race and Ethnicity Factors Show Up in Drug Abuse Statistics

Reflective of the incarceration numbers above, recent statistics suggest that race/ethnicity makes a difference when it comes to the use of illicit drugs.

The U.S. government reports that these percentages of various people groups are currently abusing illegal drugs:

  • Those reporting two or more races: 14.7 percent
  • African Americans: 10.1 percent
  • Native Americans and Native Alaskans: 9.5 percent
  • Caucasians: 8.2 percent
  • Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders: 7.3 percent
  • Hispanics: 6.2 percent
  • Asians: 3.6 percent5

The numbers and percentages surrounding legal prescription drugs and other chemicals is less certain. Other reports, such as those involving opioid abuse, indicate that epidemic proportions already exist in the U.S. Naturally, as a result, the number of emergency services and incarcerations occurring due to such drug abuse, addiction and overdose continues to rise.6

A Quality Drug Rehab Program Can Break this Vicious Cycle

Regardless of the race or culture of an individual, studies show that the best way to help someone break free from the cycle of drug addiction and its consequences is to go through drug rehab for an adequate period of time.

Some jails and prison systems are incorporating such treatment into their programs. Shown to have marked success, many courts now dictate an assigned length of drug rehab to drug offenders in order to avoid a prolonged prison sentence.7

Lawmakers are also stepping forward. For instance, both houses of California’s state legislature passed bill SB 649, which gives judges and prosecutors the option of charging people convicted of drug offenses with misdemeanors instead of felonies; offenders can then be sent to substance abuse treatment centers instead of prison or jail.8

If you have a jail or prison record due to drug use and would like to avoid future legal, relationship and health problems, very likely the best thing for you to do is show the judge that you are determined to get clean by entering a drug addiction treatment program. Call us on our 24/7 toll-free line, and we will provide you with the information and guidance you need in order to do just that. We care…and it shows.

“Race and Prison”, Get the Facts,,, (last revised 2017).

“When It Comes to Illegal Drug Use, White America Does the Crime, Black America Gets the Time”, The Huffington Post,, (September 18, 2013).

3 “End the Drug War, Save Black America”, Fox News Opinion, Fox News,, (March 16, 2011).

Moore, Lisa D., Ph.D., “Who’s Using and Who’s Doing the Time: Incarceration, the War on Drugs, and Public Health”, National Center on Biotechnology Information,, (May 2008).

5 “Racial and Ethnic Minority Populations”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,, (February 18, 2016).

6 “Inside a Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look at America’s Opioid Crisis”, The New York Times,, (January 6, 2017).

7 “Treating Drug Abuse and Addiction in the Criminal Justice System: Improving Public Health and Safety”, National Center for Biotechnology Information,, (January 14, 2009).

“California Bill Would Give Drug Users Treatment Instead of Prison Time”, The Huffington Post,, (September 13, 2013).