THE BLOG
07/19/2007 03:30 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Real Hot Ghetto Mess: Blacks Locked Up Five Times More Than Whites

I was all fired up and poised to blog about the Hot Ghetto Mess TV show flap after I read that BET"s Reginald Hudlin is comparing his shameful minstrel show to Bill Cosby's calls for change and responsibility.

"The intent of the show is no different than what Bill Cosby is doing as he's going across the country and lecturing as he talks about the problems of the (black) community that we need to address," he said.

My blogging priorities and my outrage shifted when I read The Sentencing Project's latest report on racial disparities in prison sentences:

Blacks in the United States are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites, and Hispanics are locked up at nearly double the white rate, according to a study released Wednesday by a criminal justice policy group.

It's hard to stay worked up over the newest "blacks exploiting blacks" show after I read that some states incarcerate blacks at more than ten times the rate of whites. The worst states?

In five states - Iowa, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Wisconsin - African Americans are incarcerated at more than ten times the rate of whites.

Sure, Hot Ghetto Mess sucks and I am glad the sponsors are evaporating, but this sentencing stuff is just plain unfair. It is ruining lives.

No, its not that blacks are more criminal. The game is rigged. For example, a few years ago in Seattle, researchers found:

Blacks make up 8 percent of Seattle's population and only 6 percent to 7 percent of drug users in King County, but they account for 57 percent of adult drug arrests, according to a study released yesterday.

The researchers, for example, interviewed drug-treatment professionals who reported that the majority of heroin users in King County were white.

That conclusion was supported by records from the county's Medical Examiner's Office, which showed that during 1997-99, 83 percent of the people suffering heroin overdoses were white.

Yet in 1999, 54 percent of heroin-related convictions involved African-Americans, the study found.

"It's white guys in their 30s who are dying, but it's black guys who are going to jail," Ron Green, an area drug-treatment provider, told the researchers.

How are the Presidential candidates are going to address racial disparity in sentencing? What's the Iowa strategy on this?

In Iowa, blacks are imprisoned at a rate more than double the national average. For every 100,000 people, Iowa incarcerates 309 whites and 4,200 blacks, the study said.

Paul Stageberg, administrator of the Iowa Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning, said the results are not surprising, but the causes are subject to interpretation.

He said the state's disproportionately high black arrest rates are likely linked to high poverty rates among blacks and lower educational achievement.

In 2001, a governor's task force released a report that said 24 percent of Iowa prison beds were occupied by black inmates even though blacks comprised just over 2 percent of the state's population.

Read the Sentencing Project Report here. The Sentencing Project recommends these fixes including the "Scooter Libby special" like giving Federal Judges more discretion. Compassion shouldn't be limited just to Bush cronies:

• Revisit the domestic drug control strategy, including recalibrating sentencing laws, such as the federal cocaine statutes which result in disproportionate numbers of low-level offenders being prosecuted;

• Revisit the wisdom of mandatory minimum sentencing and restore appropriate judicial discretion to incorporate individual circumstances in the sentencing decision;

• Establish enforceable and binding standards for indigent defense that ensure the provision of quality representation for all defendants;

• Mandate that all legislation affecting the prison population be accompanied by a Racial Impact Statement to document the projected consequences for persons of color.

Shows like Hot Ghetto Mess are irritating, but these prison disparity stats are downright criminal.