Study shows minority drug offenders more likely to recieve prison sentence in Illinois

January 31, 2011

Emily Wilensky

A new report finds that African Americans in Illinois are five times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for low-level drug offenses. A state commissioned study looked at arrest data from 102 counties including Cook. 

Pamela Rodriguez is Director of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, or TASC, a non-profit agency that assisted in the study. She said the data available for the study was lacking and better data centralization is necessary in order to understand racial disparity in the justice system.
 
“Not only is it 102 counties,” she said. “But if you understand the police are separate from the courts, which are separate the prosecutors, which are separate from the public defender, and all have independent data systems as well.”
 
The report makes recommendations for policy changes such as offering alternative treatment options for drug offenders, and removing barriers to employment for drug-related arrests that do not end in conviction.
 
Critics of the report, including Cook County's State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, charge it was based on too small of a case sample, and failed to take into account the role that gang membership plays in drug arrests and sentencing.