Black offenders were imprisoned at 24 times the rate of white offenders for drug charges in York County, despite the fact that both races used and sold drugs at similar rates, the study found.
The Justice Policy Institute, a research advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., researched the nation's largest counties, looking at the rates at which black men and women were sent to state prison on drug charges.
They found 97 percent of the 198 counties, including York, incarcerated African Americans on drug charges 10 times more often than whites.
Researcher Amanda Petteruti, who worked on the JPI study, said they used behavioral surveys on drug use and sales, and they found that whites and blacks in the counties studied had similar illegal drug habits.
Blacks, however, were more likely to be put in state prison, she said.
“There are two very different systems going on - one for white drug offenders and one for black drug offenders,” Petteruti said.
She said she was surprised that smaller counties, such as York, ended up near the top of the list.
With a smaller population of blacks - only 4.7 percent in York County, according to U.S. Census numbers - the disparities seemed more glaring than in counties with larger black populations, Petteruti said.
The study found more than 600 African Americans are imprisoned on drug offenses in York County per 100,000 residents. In comparison, the county with the highest rate nationwide, San Francisco, had more than 1,000 incarcerations per capita.
Researchers attributed the disparities to several factors, including different policing methods, mandatory drug-sentencing laws and differences in drug-treatment availability for blacks compared with for whites.
Both York County First Assistant District Attorney Bill Graff and York County Chief Public Defender Bruce Blocher said many local drug cases involve minority offenders.
However, the attorneys said, they have not seen disparities in how defendants are treated.
“I can't think of a time I've ever raised the issue of race in sentencing,” said Blocher, who's been the county's chief public defender since 1996.
Graff cited an example of a white drug dealer convicted of selling drugs to college students. He said he pushed for the man to serve the same amount of time as someone who sold drugs on a street corner.
“It doesn't matter who you are. If you're dealing drugs, we're going to arrest and prosecute you,” Graff said.
The study also found York County's incarceration rate for black defendants was higher than nearby counties, including Lancaster, Dauphin and Philadelphia counties.
York was the only Pennsylvania county to make the top 20 in the study's list.
Petteruti said the institute received calls from prosecutors and others who disputed the data. They argued that their counties do not look at race as a factor in drug cases or in sentencing, she said.
“This is not an indictment of the counties,” Petteruti said. “We want the counties to look at what's going on and find out what's causing the disparities.”
THE STUDY'S METHODOLOGY
For the study, the Justice Policy Institute combined data from several sources, including the National Corrections Reporting Program and the U.S. Census Bureau, to determine county levels for admissions to state prison on drug offenses.
The institute calculated the rate for the entire population, then for white and black segments of the population.
Those involved in the study used the most current data, which was from 2002, to study rates in counties with populations of 250,000 or more people.
The study focused on those sent to state prison for more serious drug offenses and did not look at those whose drug charges were lowered.
SOME OF THE FINDINGS
Major study findings include:
· In 2002, there were 19.5 million illicit drug users, 1.5 million drug arrests, and 175,000 people admitted to prison for drug offenses.
· While blacks and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates, blacks are 10 times more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug offenses.
· Of the 175,000 admitted to prison nationwide in 2002, more than half were African American, despite the fact that blacks make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population.
· There is no relationship between the rates at which people are sent to prison for drug offenses and the rates at which people use drugs in counties.
· Counties that spent more money on law enforcement and the judicial system sent more defendants to state prison.
TOP 15 COUNTIES
Top U.S. counties with population over 250,000 ranked by the rate at which blacks are admitted to state prison on drug offenses.
1.San Francisco, Calif.
4.San Mateo, Calif.
13.San Diego, Calif.