Attorney General Eric Holder’s call for ending mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders has sparked a national debate on drug policy that should have begun 25 years ago.
During last Monday’s speech on drug policy reform, Holder repeatedly singled out “young people” as a special target, particularly “the fact that young black and Latino men are disproportionately likely to become involved in our criminal justice system — as victims as well as perpetrators.”
This is a common refrain — but increasingly untrue. Law enforcement and public health agencies data now shows that U.S. drug abuse and crime problems have been shifting to older and whiter demographics over the last two decades — creating new realities for debate and policy.
Only one state, California, has kept reliable, complete arrest statistics over several decades by race, sex, offense and age. But California’s drug arrest and abuse trends often reflect (or are harbingers of) national trends, and in the Golden State developments are challenging every major premise of the drug-policy debate.