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Revisiting Neighborhood Context and Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests Under the Opioid Epidemic

NCJ Number
Race and Justice Dated: 2019
Date Published
11 pages

This study revisited the environmental correlates of drug-related arrest disparities by conducting a neighborhood-level analysis of Black-White differences in arrests for drug possession and drug selling by substance type across Delaware.


As opioid addiction has increased in recent years, racial disparities in drug arrests may be changing in their size and sources. Neighborhood conditions, such as economic disadvantage and racial composition, are powerful determinants of racial differences in arrests. Drug overdoses and police responses to these incidents may, however, alter the neighborhood context of drug arrests, especially those for drug offenses that involve heroin, synthetic narcotics, and related opium derivatives. In the current study, spatial model estimates suggest economic disadvantage and racial diversity in neighborhoods substantially increased Black arrest rates. Conversely, arrest rates for Whites increased with more calls for service for drug overdose incidents, racial homogeneity, and, to a lesser extent, economic disadvantage within a community. Disparities in drug arrests also varied by substance type, with heroin arrests for Whites tending to correlate with higher drug overdose service calls relative to White arrests for marijuana, cocaine, and other substances or Black arrests for any substance. These results indicate the need to re-examine neighborhood conditions and drug arrest disparities due to emerging shifts in drug use and drug law enforcement. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019