This report was published by the Sentencing Project earlier this week. How did Denver fare in the report? Not so well. Not as bad as others, but we still show a tripling of drug arrests and a tripling of drug arrests by race.
The “war on drugs,” beginning in the 1980s, represented a profound shift in
the way in which the United States practiced law enforcement, and ushered
in a new era in American policing. Overall, between 1980 and 2003, the
number of drug offenders in prison or jail increased by 1100% from 41,100 in 1980
to 493,800 in 2003,2 with a remarkable rise in arrests concentrated in African
American communities. This precipitous escalation began as the result of a tangible
shift in law enforcement practices toward aggressively pursuing drug offenses.
This report analyzes the implementation of the drug war on the “ground level,” and
how it has played out in arrest patterns in the nation’s largest cities. Our examination
reveals broad disparity in the use of discretion regarding the scope of drug arrests,
and consequently its effect on the communities most heavily impacted by these
practices. We also look at the consequences of the policy choice made to respond to
drug abuse through mechanisms of law enforcement rather than a public health
model and discuss how this decision has affected American society, particularly
communities of color.
This study represents the first longitudinal analysis of drug arrests by race at the citylevel analyzing data from 43 of the nation’s largest cities between 1980-2003, theperiod during which the “war on drugs” was initiated and expanded.3 A city-level
study offers a number of advantages in helping assess the impact of the “war on drugs"