The American Civil Liberties Union has found that Hispanic people in Maricopa County, Arizona charged with simple cannabis possession are sentenced to significantly longer jail and prison terms than their white and Black counterparts, and that Black people convicted of personal possession of drug paraphernalia receive longer sentences than whites and Hispanics.
The report points out that Arizona has the fifth highest incarceration rate in the nation. In 2017, Latinx people comprised 31 percent of the state’s population but comprised 37 percent of those in prison. Black people comprise 13 percent of the state’s prison admissions but are just 5 percent of the state’s population.
Hispanic people, the report says, spend 298 days in jail for a simple cannabis possession conviction, while Black people spend 246 days behind bars for the crime. White people are sentenced, on average, to 242 days in jail or prison.
For paraphernalia possession, Black people are sentenced on average to 844 days in jail or prison, Hispanics serve an average of 758 days, while white people are sentenced to an average of 679 days.
“White people are significantly more likely to have cases that are ultimately not filed compared to Hispanic, Black, and all other individuals. Among white people, 10.5 percent in the dataset ultimately did not have cases filed against them. Among Black people, 9.6 percent in the dataset ultimately did not have cases filed against them. Among Hispanic people, 9.4% in the dataset ultimately did not have cases filed against them. These differences are statistically significant.” – ACLU, The Racial Divide of Prosecutions in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office
Hispanic people are also ordered to pay fines hundreds of dollars more than their Black or white counterparts. Those fines – even when controlling for offense severity – average $2,348.98, while Black people pay an average of $1,771.92, white people pay 1,701.45, and Asian, indigenous, and other populations pay $1,478.13.
The ACLU says that in order to remedy the disparities of prosecutorial practices in the county, officials must implement policies using a racial justice lens, increase transparency – the ACLU had to sue the county attorney’s office for violating public law records to obtain access to the data analyzed for the report – and work with law enforcement to reduce disparities.
Maricopa County earned a name for itself as a hub for institutional racism under the direction of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court after refusing to stop racially profiling people when detaining “individuals suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.” Arpaio was pardoned of that crime by President Donald Trump in 2017.
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