As more Americans learn that the origins of the War on Drugs are rooted in racism and are not necessarily in place to protect the interest of public safety, it appears the White House has decided to come clean—admitting that pot prohibition perpetuates the same level of racism in the United States that once contributed to headlines like “Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace,” which was printed in 1914 by The New York Times.
A new report entitled “Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage and High Return Opportunities for Change,” which was published earlier this week by the Executive Office of the President, is a finely tuned admission that the youth of black and Hispanic America are at a substantial disadvantage for evolving into their full potential as productive members of civil society. There are a number of barriers that stand in the way, according to the report, one of which is the fact that more minorities are being introduced into the criminal justice system at an early age—most them for minor drug-related offenses.
“A black individual is nearly four times as likely as a white individual to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though black and white individuals reported using marijuana at similar rates,” the report states.
Interestingly, the White House statistics on racial disparity in relation to marijuana-related arrests are from a 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is a constitutional watchdog that supports the demise of prohibition. This highly-publicized report not only discovered that blacks were more likely to get busted for weed than their white counterparts, but that arrests for petty pot possession now makes up over half the drug arrests in the United States.
In addition, the White House goes on record to say that the nation is locking up blacks and Hispanics at a rate greater than the groups’ free-world population—these minorities make up 60 percent of the federal and state prison system.
“Inequalities in arrests and sentencing contribute to overrepresentation of black and Hispanic Americans in the incarcerated population,” the report states. “Even when there is little difference in the likelihood of committing a crime, individuals of color are much more likely to be arrested. If convicted, black offenders are more likely to be sentenced to incarceration than white offenders and to receive longer sentences for the same offenses.”
The business of locking up non-violent, minority drug offenders—a lucrative venture, considering profits for private prisons increased from $392 million in the early 1980’s to now billions—is a large part of the problem. The report suggests that the money spent on housing these prisoners might be better served if invested in a curriculum that offers education as opposed to incarceration.
“The annual cost of incarceration for a single juvenile is over $100,000—almost twice as high as tuition, room and board, and fees at the most expensive college in the country and nearly 100 times as expensive as a year of intensive mentoring,” according to the report.
The White House report suggests that by branding these youngsters with a criminal record early in life, it castrates their future economic potential, a factor that does not contribute to the greater good of the nation.
“Not only are over a million young boys and men of color missing from their communities, but when they return, the legacy of a criminal record follows them,” reads the report. “Formerly-incarcerated and other justice-involved individuals face ongoing barriers to employment after release, including a lack of safe, drug-free housing; lack of job placement assistance; loss of aid eligibility; lack of other networks and forms of support; and legal barriers to holding certain jobs. Additionally, ex-offenders face additional scrutiny from employers. Only about 60 percent of employers in one survey said they might consider hiring an ex-offender.”
This latest report was released in conjunction with President Obama’s focus this week on reforming the criminal justice system. The President recently signed an Executive Order commuting the sentences of over 40 prisoners who had been locked up for non-violent, drug-related crimes—bringing his total up to almost 80 since taking office.
There are still more than 30,000 drug offenders that have applied for commutation.