Racial Inequities in Drug Arrests: Treatment in Lieu of and After Incarceration

Drug arrests and incarcerations have deep and lasting consequences for the health and well-being of people involved in the criminal justice system as well as their families and communities. Two issues are at stake: law enforcement practices and opportunities for treatment.

The increased racial inequity in felony arrest rates also calls for a better understanding of the role of race in law enforcement practices. Blacks are no more likely than Whites to use illicit drugs or be involved in drug sales; consequently, these behaviors do not explain disparities in arrest rates.However, research has found greater surveillance of and arrests related to illicit drug (e.g., crack cocaine) sales in markets that are more likely to have Black sellers than White sellers, and when occurring in racially diverse than in predominantly White drug markets. Other investigations revealed a strong association between the share of White residents in a neighborhood and a Black person’s likelihood of a drug arrest.

Los Angeles County uses resources to support a range of diversion and reentry programs that provide substance use, mental health, health, housing, and employment services. A preliminary analysis of participation rates in select programs (data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, Participant Reporting System; and the Los Angeles County Probation Department) demonstrates that Blacks may not be accessing community-based treatment services at rates proportional to their involvement in the criminal justice system. Between 2014 and 2017, roughly 22% of people who participated in the county’s AB 109 substance use disorder treatment programs were Black. Because Blacks account for 33% of the AB109 population under probation’s community supervision, barriers to participation that contribute to this disproportionality should be identified.

Population: African American.

Links to resources:

  • Read the full research article Racial Inequities in Drug Arrests: Treatment in Lieu of and After Incarceration on ajph.org.
  • Learn more on the American Journal of Public Health.
  • Read the article Examining Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests to get a better understanding of racial disparities.
  • Learn more about incarceration rates by race in the US.

Date: 2019.