(Chicago, IL) – January 31, 2011
A state commission today released a report that reveals that African Americans charged with low-level drug crimes were sent to prison at a rate almost five times greater than whites in 2005, the most recent year for which the comprehensive data set was available.
The Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, established in 2008 to examine the impact of Illinois drug laws on racial and ethnic groups, found in its independent research that, among defendants charged with a Class 4, low-level drug possession, 19 percent of African-American defendants were sentenced to prison, compared with 4 percent of white defendants.
In Cook County, the disparity was even greater. African Americans in Cook County arrested only for Class 4 possession were eight times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison.
Additionally, statewide arrest data indicated that disproportionality in drug arrests occurred in 62 of Illinois’ 102 counties, including urban, suburban, and rural areas. Racial disparities for drug arrests varied widely by county but tended to be greater in jurisdictions with smaller populations of nonwhite residents.
“The Commission has found that people of color, particularly African Americans, are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned for low-level drug crimes in Illinois,” said State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), co-chair of the commission.
“We need to change certain policies and practices so that justice is administered fairly across racial and ethnic lines,” said Hunter. “We need to divert non-violent drug offenders from expensive incarceration to rehabilitation programs, such as court-ordered drug treatment.”
“When it comes to arrests and prosecution for drug crimes, racial disproportionality affects communities in urban, suburban, and rural areas across Illinois,” said Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) President Pamela Rodriguez, whose organization provided research support to the Commission.
“The problem of disproportionate incarceration undermines the fundamental principles of a just society,” Rodriguez said. “It also creates a burden for every taxpayer.”
Both Hunter and Rodriguez emphasized that the focus now needs to be on solutions, contending that the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pat Quinn should get behind the commission’s key recommendations to erase the disproportionate arrest and imprisonment of African Americans involved in low-level drug crimes in Illinois.
“We need to mitigate the lasting harm to families and communities created by the disproportionate administration of justice,” said Hunter. “The commission has identified practical recommendations, such as expanding sentencing alternatives that include drug treatment.”