According to recent reports, black Americans are more likely to go to jail on drug charges than white Americans, while statistics show that white Americans use illegal drugs more than black Americans do.
Now, because of this disproportionate statistic, lawmakers in California are trying to change that fact. Bill SB 649 aims to cut down the number of black people incarcerated on drug charges and change the entire spectrum of the “war on drugs.”
The bill, which was authored by Democratic Senator Mark Leno, will aim to cut down on prison overcrowding and stop the jailing of people with drug charges, attempting instead to send offenders to drug rehabilitation programs. The bill would also give prosecutors the option to charge people arrested on drug offenses with misdemeanors rather than felonies.
Reports show that black people are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as white people, while white people have much higher drug usage rates than blacks. Studies also show that while black people make up 45 percent of all drug charges in prisons, white only comprise 30 percent.
While speaking to the Huffington Post about the issue, Jamie Fellner of the Human Rights Watch said that the discrepancy can be explained.
“The race issue isn’t just that the judge is going, ‘Oh, black man, I’m gonna sentence you higher,’” she said. “The police go into low-income minority neighborhoods and that’s where they make most of their drug arrests. If they arrest you, now you have a ‘prior,’ so if you plead or get arrested again, you’re gonna have a higher sentence. There’s a kind of cumulative effect.”
Senator Leno said in a recent statement that they hope the bill will help people with drug problems and naturally lessen crime.
“We know we can reduce crime by offering low-level offenders rehabilitation and the opportunity to successfully reenter their communities,” said Leno “But we are currently doing the opposite. We give non-violent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they’re incarcerated, and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or options to receive an education. S.B. 649 gives local governments the flexibility to choose reduced penalties so that they can reinvest in proven alternatives that benefit minor offenders and reserve limited jail space for serious criminals.”
The bill is expected to land on California Governor Jerry Brown’s desk soon. It has already passed in both the Assembly and the Senate.