Colorblind No More: A Growing Number of States Assess the Racial Impact of Drug Laws

Article excerpt

LEGISLATION PASSED IN IOWA and Connecticut will now require politicians in both states to consider how proposed drug laws may impact communities of color. Minnesota hasn't passed a law, but its sentencing commission has already begun taking similar action.

The laws come after decades of research showing how the federal and state policies that made up the War on Drugs have disproportionately targeted Black people, sending them to prison at much higher rates than whites. In Iowa alone, Blacks are imprisoned at 13.6 times the rate of whites.

The Sentencing Project, an organization promoting reforms in the criminal justice system, has been calling on lawmakers across the country to create racial impact statements. The concept is similar to how environmental impact statements work: When a bill is proposed, lawmakers are required to include an analysis of how the environment would be affected if the bill were passed. Racial impact statements will do the same, considering how a proposed sentencing law might cause, for example, an increase of Latino or Black men in prisons.

"The idea is to remind legislators that their decisions can irrationally and perhaps unintentionally affect racial disparity," said Isabel Gomez, executive director of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. "We're hoping it'll get them to think. …