Study finds racial imbalance
PORTLAND — A study conducted by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission has found that African-Americans in the state were convicted of felony drug possession at more than double the rate of whites in 2015.
That conviction disparity held true in methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine cases statewide, reported The Oregonian/OregonLive.
State Criminal Justice Commission Director Mike Schmidt said the results are striking given federal public health survey data, which shows that illicit drug use is roughly the same across Americans of different races and ethnicities.
"Everyone who uses or possesses (illicit drugs) has committed that crime," Schmidt said. "Whether or not they are caught is completely different."
Schmidt's staff looked at cases in which drug possession was the person's first and only felony conviction.
Gov. Kate Brown asked the agency to examine racial and ethnical disparities earlier this year. The study is the first of its kind in Oregon.
Lawmakers are expected to consider Brown's proposal to reduce some drug possession felonies to misdemeanors. That policy shift would treat addiction as a public health issue and address the racial and ethnic disparities, and it is supported by associations representing Oregon sheriffs and police chiefs, according to the governor's budget.
Brown requested the analysis after reading the book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander, according to spokesman Bryan Hockaday.
Brown "wanted to get a better handle on the reality here in the state because the first step to really addressing it in a comprehensive way is really understanding what the problem is," explained Hockaday.
Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said he wasn't surprised by the state's findings.
Underhill said his office has done its own work looking at racial and ethnic disparities and is planning to roll out programs next month to reduce inequality and move addicts toward treatment.
"I want to do better by our community," said Underhill. "We want to be fair in our criminal justice system to all individuals."