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Updated: 12/29/2017 08:30:01AM

Balancing justice

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Racial disparities pervade Florida’s justice system, and the war on drugs is no exception. A Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigation found black defendants account for a disproportionate share of drug convictions and are given longer jail sentences than whites in similar circumstances. The disparity exists in drug treatment too, with blacks afforded far less access to rehabilitation programs. As the state devotes more resources to helping rather than jailing addicts, it should recognize this inequality and not leave African-Americans behind.

The Herald-Tribune compiled information from multiple state databases and identified trends in drug cases. Most significantly, blacks make up 17 percent of Florida’s population but account for 46 percent of felony drug convictions. Laws enacted during the crack cocaine epidemic that established drug-free zones around schools, churches and public housing continue to be in force — and continue to perpetuate racial imbalances. Dealing drugs in those zones, which commonly blanket minority neighborhoods, often brings enhanced prison sentences. The Herald-Tribune found that black defendants are nearly three times more likely to face a drug-free zone sentence enhancement and account for two-thirds of those convictions statewide. The newspaper’s series, “One War. Two Races,” found these disparities exist even between defendants with similar criminal histories caught committing the same crimes. The only difference was race.

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