Is the war on drugs racially biased?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The War on Drugs (WoD) popularized aggressive law enforcement tactics and punitive sanctions aimed at low-level drug offenders. These punitive practices have affected Americans of all races; however, African-Americans, in particular, have been affected. This article examines whether racial disparities in arrest and incarceration can be explained by racial differences in drug offending. The evidence indicates that African-Americans are no more likely to use or sell drugs than whites; thus, racial differences in the extent of drug offending cannot explain these disparities. Disparities in arrest and incarceration are better explained by the combination of the policy decision to focus on low-level drug offenders, racial differences in the nature of drug offending, and the discretionary decisions of criminal justice officials, which appear to be affected by racial stereotypes of drug offenders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-75
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Crime and Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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