Targeting the Black Underclass: The War on Drugs

Scott A. Bonn, University of Miami

ABSTRACT
The incarceration rate in the United States increased more than 450% between 1970 and 1998. African-Americans, as a percentage of those sent to federal and state prisons, increased from 37% in 1980 to 54% in 1992. A number of social scientists have argued that increases in the incarceration rate and racial disparity in the inmate population have resulted from the war on drugs launched in the mid-1980s. Supporting this disparity in the inmate population have resulted from the war on drugs launched in the mid-1980s. Supporting this position, I will present secondary research evidence that inner-city youth gangs have been unfairly blamed by state managers for an exaggerated "drug problem" in the U.S. I will further argue that the war on drugs was politically motivated, unnecessary, and that it disproportionately targeted the black underclass. I will attempt to support a hypothesis that racial disparity in the nation's prison population has increased as a result of the war on drugs by targeting young, black men, and using highly punitive and racially biased sanctions against them. Finally, I will argue that shortsighted "lock 'em up" criminal justice policies ignore the social-structural problems that gave rise to urban youth gangs. These problems require socioeconomic solutions, not harsh punishment.

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Updated 05/20/2006