San Francisco imprisons African Americans for drug offenses at a much higher rate than whites, according to a report to be released today by a nonprofit research institute.
In a study of nearly 200 counties nationwide, the Justice Policy Institute found that 97 percent of large-population counties have racial disparities between the number of black people and white people sent to prison on drug convictions.
The institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., and researches public policy and promotes alternatives to incarceration, says whites and African Americans use illicit drugs at similar rates. But black people account for more than 50 percent of sentenced drug offenders, though they make up only 13 percent of the nation's population.
San Francisco locks up a higher percentage of members of the African American community in drug cases than any other county in the study. In the county, 123 people out of every 100,000 are sent to state prison each year for drug offenses. Of those, whites are incarcerated at a rate of 35 per 100,000 white people, while blacks are incarcerated at a rate of 1,013 per 100,000 black people.
"It is not that San Francisco is sending a lot of people to prison for drug offenses, it is that the people they are sending are black," said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the institute. "An average citizen who uses drugs in San Francisco has a pretty low chance of going to prison, but if you are African American, the chances are fairly high."