Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Massive racial disparities documented in Texas counties incarceration rates for drug offenses

Doc Berman points to a new study from the Justice Policy Institute documenting racial disparities in incarceration trends for drug crimes, and the study contains plenty of localized county-level fact sheets that have already begun to result in localized MSM stories in various media outlets, though none yet in Texas.

Not only is the level of racial disaparity in drug-related incarceration by county surprising, but also the RANGE of variation between counties in how much more often black folks are arrested for drug offenses. Here's a chart excerpted from JPI data for Texas counties with the highest ratio of drug-related incarcerations per 100,000 by county.


Reporters especially should review this useful map for localized fact sheets for Texas Counties with populations above 250,000. In Travis County, for example, the drug imprisonment rate for white folks was less than 10 per 100,000, while just over 302 black folks per 100,000 were imprisoned for drugs. (The overall drug imprisonment rate was 49 per 100,000, but obviously within that stat tremendous disparities exist.

So Travis County sent 31 times as many black folks as white folks to prison for drugs, by comparison Dallas, with a much larger black population, the ratio was 9-1. In Harris and Bexar Counties, both, the ratio was 19-1.

These are fascinating data and I hope Texas reporters pick up on these localized data to launch local discussions over whether these results reflect the outcomes they think are best for the overall health of their cities and counties.

Congrats to JPI's Jason Zeidenberg on an outstanding (and provocative) research project.

19 comments:

Jason said...

I had a friend who used to patrol in an affluent area. Almost every night he made a drug arrest and the majority of those were white males. So, if I did a study on the racial makeup of that district for drug arrest I could conclude that the majority of drug arrests were white males. Then I could say whatever I wanted was the cause (i.e. racism, classism, all kinda isms).

Anonymous said...

How can this be justified, if they are at the same time meeting their racial profiling standards? Is that only for traffic stops, or does this point to a disparity in the DA's office? I know of the disparity in the death penalty rates, but didn't know it was even worse for defendants as a whole.

Anonymous said...

These stats clearly show blacks smoke more crack than whites. I'll call that a truism.

Anonymous said...

The SA Express-News did a story on this in Wednesday's paper.


http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA120507.05A.disparity.6b378fcb.html

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jason, since these are all aggregate county-wide stats, I don't think your anecdote about a single officer's experience applies.

Anonymous said...

Is there any way to find stats from smaller counties?

JSN said...

Your Department of Corrections should be able to provide prison admission data by county for sentenced prisoners by gender and race/ethnicity. It depends on the state what type of data they can provide for non-sentenced prisoners.

FBI arrest data is not distributed by gender and race/ethnicity and only a few county booking facilities make that type of data available on their web page. Most booking facilities are at the jail and small county jails have very limited resources. They probably make monthly or annual reports to the state jail inspector and could provide data included in such reports but my guess is that such reports are minimal and will not include the data needed to examine racial disparity issues.

Sheriffs and jail administrators have no control over who is incarcerated in their jail and they have been subjected to unfair criticism about racial disparity issues. So don't be surprised if they are very sensitive about that subject.

JR said...

great use of embedding a spreadsheet in this post... Quick tips:
1 - If you change the Height of the IFRAME on that spreadsheet object, you can avoid the vertical scroll bars... (change the height="300" to something like height="500" to see if that does it... then adjust to make it right...

2 - narrow the columns in the underlying spreadsheet to get rid of the horizontal scrollbars (remember to re-publish)

3 - get rid of gridlines by adding &gridlines=false to the spreadsheet URL...

4 - put your URL or the URL of the source of this data in one of the cells of the spredsheet so that anyone else who may republish the spreadsheet alone will also be re-publishing the source of the data to give credit without any work.

Nice blog.

Anonymous said...

Sheriffs and jail administrators have no control over who is incarcerated in their jail and they have been subjected to unfair criticism about racial disparity issues. So don't be surprised if they are very sensitive about that subject.

Without a doubt. The problems (if any) start with police, and are found at every level after that. In many counties it's a bond issue, others a jury issue, and still others the way the DA prosecutes cases, but all play a role to an extent.

Anonymous said...

"The problems (if any) start with police, and are found at every level after that."

Actually, the problem start with the offenders who use drugs and the communities that tolerate it. I would for all things to be equal in society but I am afraid it is not. The simple fact is that minorities have a higher rate of drug use than whites. That is what drives the numbers. It's nto because police are racist.

Drive around Austin to all the major drug areas such as Burton/Oltorf, Rundburg/Middlefiskville, 5th/Sabine, 8th/Neches, 12th/Chicon.

What do you see? About 75% to 90% black or hispanic with a few white strays mixed in.

What the hell do you expect the numbers to look like?

Kathy Mitchell said...

Actually, your statements are simply untrue. Studies clearly show that people use drugs at about the same rates (and Hispanics use at slightly lower rates than whites and blacks). According to the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, drug use rates were 8.1 percent for whites, 7.2 percent for Hispanics, and 8.7 percent for blacks. These modest differences do NOT account for the differences in prosecution and emprisonment that we see in our criminal justice system.

In fact, these rates should mean that our prisons are full of white people. Because there are numerically far more white people, and so there are more white drug users. According to the Federal Household Survey, whites account for about 10 million of the nation's users, blacks about 2 million, and hispanics about 1.4 million.

So maybe the only thing true about your statement, anon at 1:14am, is that all things in society are not equal. Indeed. Justice is probably the most unequal of all.

EJ said...

So Hispanics are not worthy of mention?

JSN said...

Kathy;

Prison inmates with drugs as the most serious charge are charged with trafficking (about 90%) and possession (about 10%) although some claim that some of the trafficking charges are really possession (I would not be surprised if as much as 20% are). Not everyone engaged in drug trafficking uses drugs.

Unless a drug user does something to attract the attention of the police they are unlikely to be arrested so even though the survey results about the percentage of drug use by race/ethnicity are similar the arrest rates by race/ethnicity can be very different.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 1:14 AM said:

"The simple fact is that minorities have a higher rate of drug use than whites. That is what drives the numbers. It's nto because police are racist".

As Kathy Mitchell points out, that's simply not true.

jsn said:

"Unless a drug user does something to attract the attention of the police they are unlikely to be arrested so even though the survey results about the percentage of drug use by race/ethnicity are similar the arrest rates by race/ethnicity can be very different".

I've heard that excuse over and over- "well, you see, blacks tend to use and sell drugs out in the open...". That excuse doesn't hold water either. After all, this study looks at the disparity of what happens between whites and blacks AFTER they have been arrested on drug charges. It has nothing to do with rates of use of the nature of drug sale and use among blacks as opposed to whites. In this case, that's irrelevant.

JSN said...

I thought I would give some ratios of Black/White probabilities of arrest and booking for drug offenses into our county jail. The offense classes are serious and aggravated misdemeanors and D,C B felonies in increasing order of severity and the first number is the female ratio and the second the male ratio,
1) Simple misdemeanor 1.1, 4.9
2) Aggravated misdemeanor 0.0, 16.5
3) D felony 1.9, 9.3
4) C felony 5.0, 16.7
5) B felony 1.3, 5.0

Except for C felonies the probabilities for Black and White females are similar but for males Blacks are much more likely to be arrested and booked on a drug charge than Whites.

Debbie said...

I just think it's atrocious that "liberal" Austin/Travis Co. is the 2nd most 'racist' in Texas. I've always suspected as much. (The disparities in the criminal justice system is probably the best contemporary measure of racism we have.)

EJ: Hispanics simply weren't a part of this study...incarceration rates simply aren't as egregious across that population (there's plenty else to look at with this group: immigration laws/detentions, etc).

Anonymous: 12/8, 1:14pm - come out from behind your badge and publicly stand behind your baseless statements.

Stop the Drug War said...

Here's another layer to add to all of this. A recent Zogby poll asked, "If hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine were legalized, would you be likely to use them?" 0.8% of white people said yes, 0.5% said they weren't sure, and 98.6% said no. Every single person of color who answered the poll said no. Poll results:
http://stopthedrugwar.org/legalization

Anonymous said...

"I've heard that excuse over and over- "well, you see, blacks tend to use and sell drugs out in the open...". That excuse doesn't hold water either. "

"Anonymous: 12/8, 1:14pm - come out from behind your badge and publicly stand behind your baseless statements."

God this stuff cracks me up. Typical liberal arguments. You can play with numbers all you want but the truth of the matter is that minority drug use is much more out in the open. I don't know about all your surveys and statistics that say whites use drugs at the same rate as everyone else.

Common sense says that is bull. Drug use is often the result of poverty and a sense of despair. Whatever the causes, I know what I see everytime I go outside. Why don't you put down your term papers and go outside and walk around these drug area? You know it is the truth but you just don't want to accept it.

You can argue racism until the world ends but the drug users drive the stats, not vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:27 PM, I'm Anon at 1:14PM:). I didn't dispute the contention that black drug use and sales are more out in the open. I simply said it can't be used to explain away disparities as large as we see in the study highlited in this post. 14 whites per 100,000 as opposed to almost 300 blacks per 100,000 in Harris County? Come on. Yes, a large part of it is due to racism.