The impact of the drug war has been astounding. In less than thirty years, the U.S> penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase. The united States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran. In Germany, 93 people are in prison for every 100,000 adults and children. In the United States, the rate is roughly eight times that, or 750 per 100,000.
The racial dimension of mass incarceration is its most striking feature. No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all of those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black communities across America.
These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. That is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with blakc and brown drug offenders. In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men. And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.” —
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Things that you probably already knew but are worth repeating.