Report: More Blacks Sent To Prison For Drugs

When it comes to sentencing drug offenders, 16 times as many blacks than whites were sent to prison from Washoe County in 2002, according to a report by a nonprofit agency.

In its study, the Justice Policy Institute examined data for the year from 198 counties with at least 250,000 people.

Washoe ranked 41st in the number of persons per 100,000 imprisoned for drug offenses, one slot behind Los Angeles and two behind New York City.

The national black-white ratio for drug inmates was 10 to 1.

The ratio for Los Angeles was 17 to 1, slightly higher than Washoe
County's 16-to-1 ratio, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Tuesday.

"With the low number of African Americans we have in Washoe County and to have that many incarcerated is appalling," said Lucille Adin, president of the Reno-Sparks branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"It absolutely is. What is happening?"

Some local officials and legal experts questioned a report with only one year's data.

Others said the report justifies further discussion and study.

"Instead of getting defensive about the report, I hope it leads to community-wide discussion," said state Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

"I think we need to look more deeply into this report and understand what is happening. It really calls out for dialogue with the police department."

But Reno's police chief and others questioned the report.

"I have to look at this in greater depth," Chief Mike Poehlman said.

Poehlman didn't dispute blacks are sent to prison at a greater rate than whites.

"To say it's because law enforcement is targeting minorities to try and put them in prison, I find that pretty ludicrous," he said. "The law has been enforced based on the statutes that are in the books."

Report author Phillip Beatty said Washoe County should examine poverty as well as spending on law enforcement and courts.

Washoe County had a per-capita spending for law enforcement of $300, compared to an average of $199 for counties researched.

Per-capita spending for the judiciary was $136, more than double the national average of $62.

"You're in the big-city enforcement spending patterns," Beatty said. "We're saying that the larger the police budget, the more resources available for discretionary drug offenses."

Gary Hengstler, director of the Center for Courts and Media at the National Judicial College in Reno, questioned the institute's bias and methodology, with only one year of data.

"They are pushing an agenda," he said. "I guess that makes me a little suspicious. "I would like to see a five-year trend rather than an isolated
year," he said. "I want to see a pattern rather than a snapshot
before I go drawing sweeping conclusions."