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Racial Disparity in U.S. Drug Arrests

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 1995
This report summarizes statistics on racial disparity in drug arrests, based on data from a national survey of admitted drug use by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and data from a survey of self-reported drug use by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

National data on persons arrested for drug abuse violations, a category that consisted of both drug selling and drug possession, were obtained from the FBI for the 3-year period from 1991 to 1993. An annual average was then taken based on the 3 years. Data from arrest records indicated blacks constituted an average of 40 percent of persons arrested nationwide per year for drug abuse violations. To learn how many people admitted to using selected categories of drugs, specially tabulated national data were obtained from SAMHSA, data that consisted of annual averages based on 3 years of surveying households between 1991 and 1993. Self-reports showed blacks constituted 13 percent of persons who admitted using and therefore possessing illicit drugs each year. Since blacks constituted 40 percent of drug violation arrests but only 13 percent of admitted drug users, there was an apparent disparity of 27 percentage points. This disparity was analytically refined to 23 percentage points, and further analysis indicated 10 of the 23 percentage points were attributable to race-neutral factors. Because the analysis could not explain the remaining 13 percentage points, further study is recommended to determine whether the effect of drug use denial among criminally active persons is large enough to account for the disparity.

Date Published: October 1, 1995