Examining Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests

Ojmarrh Mitchell, Michael S. Caudy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


The War on Drugs popularized a set of policies and practices that dramatically increased the number of drug arrests, particularly for low-level drug offenses. The War’s tactics have affected Americans of every race; however, minorities have been most dramatically affected. There are several explanations for the observed racial disparity in drug arrests, but relatively little research directly tests these explanations. In this study, we test three common explanations of racial disparities in drug arrest rates. We find that racial disparities in drug arrests cannot be explained by differences in drug offending, nondrug offending, or residing in the kinds of neighborhoods likely to have heavy police emphasis on drug offending. Our findings are most consistent with explanations focusing on racial bias in drug sanctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-313
Number of pages26
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • drug offending
  • race and crime
  • race and drug offending
  • racial crossover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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