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Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs Paperback – October 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0226684628 ISBN-10: 0226684628

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 193 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (October 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226684628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226684628
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Unequal under Law goes beyond conventional analyses of the War on Drugs and probes into the historical antecedents of current policy. The picture that emerges is one in which racial dynamics have always pervaded drug policy, from the criminalization of opium in the nineteenth century to Prohibition to the indefensible crack cocaine penalties of today. Only by understanding these basic functions can we assess the true implications of current drug policy and develop more constructive policy responses.”—Marc Mauer, executive director, The Sentencing Project

(Marc Mauer, executive director, The Sentencing Project)

Unequal under Law is a masterful overview of the War on Drugs, drawing compelling historical continuity between different eras of U.S. policies toward ‘mind-altering substances’ and vulnerable populations. For future research and informed policy discussions in this area, Provine has set a new bar, and the bar is very high. This is an unusual combination of meticulous scholarship, analytic acumen, and ‘the big picture.’”

(Troy Duster, New York University)

“This book will help the forces for racial justice, for drug law reform, and more broadly for human rights in criminal justice and law. It should help rekindle the much-needed debate about the deeply racist consequences of current drug laws.”—Craig Reinarman, University of California, Santa Cruz

(Craig Reinarman, University of California, Santa Cruz)

"A very carefully constructed interdisciplinary argument about the war on drugs. . . . It is not the author's intent to declare the war on drugs a failure. What she shows is that the policy follows recent American history in its bias against disparate racial minorities."

"Although it is widely known that the United States has experienced a 'prison boom' with dramatically harsher effects on African Americans than whites, no one has analyzed the racialized sources and implications of these disparities so deeply, subtly, and persuasively as Marie Provin in this thoughtful study. . . . A very well-crafted policy analysis and an elegantly written teaching tool. Students and scholars at all levels are likely to find the book accessible and thought-provoking. It is a model of normatively-driven, theoretically-framed research."
(Charles R. Epp Law & Politics Book Review)

"Provine uses a social constructionist theoretical framework to logically, systematically, and thoroughly examine the history of drug control policy in the United States. Her book adds significantly to the literature in that it provides an historical, social, and political context to fully undersand the current war on drugs, its impact particularly on African American communities, and the apparent reluctance of the government to critically address America's approach to drug use."
(Deidre M. Warren Criminal Justice Review)

"Unequal under Law is elegantly written and stands as an exemplar of the best of law and society scholarship. It offers a nuanced and kaleidoscopic examination of the persistence of racism in America and exposes the roles and responsibnilites of the law in sustaining racism. In this way, Unequal under Law also works as a case study of the capacity of law to achieve progressive social change, with important insights into the social and political conditions which constrain legal results. . . . A fascinating study demonstrating the importance and complexity of racial divisions in the United States. It is also a plea for understanding such divisions in an institutional and psychologically informed manner."
(Castherine Dauvergne Journal of Politics) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Doris Marie Provine is the director of the School of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University. She is the author of several books, including Judging Credentials and Case Selection in the United States Supreme Court, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Randall G. Shelden on May 15, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Race and the Drug War

Randall G. Shelden

November 8, 2009

According to the latest national figures, the incarceration rate of racial minorities continues to dwarf the rate for whites. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in June, 2008 the overall incarceration rate for black males was 4,777 (per 100,000) compared to a rate of only 727 for white males. Black females had an incarceration rate of 349 compared to 93 for white females. The rate for Hispanics fell in between at 1,760 for males and 147 the females. It reminds me of the phrase popular in the 1960s: "If you're white, you're alright; if you're brown, stick around; if you're black, stay back."

When it comes to drug offenses, the rate differential is off the charts, with black offenders constituting up to 90% of prison admissions on drug convictions in states such as Illinois, Maryland, South Dakota and Utah (according to a Human Rights Watch study). Also, racial differences in the rate of drug offenders sentenced to prison are huge, with Illinois a prime example (a rate of 1146 for blacks and only 20 for whites). Nationally, the rate for black males for drugs is 482 compared to just 36 for whites. These are figures from the mid-1990s, but the most recent figures continue to show large racial disparities. For instance, a new report by the Sentencing Project (April, 2009) shows that of all the drug offenders currently in prison as of 2005, 43% were black, 32% were Hispanic and 23% were white. In the federal system 82% of all crack cocaine cases in 2006 were black. Another Sentencing Project report noted that "Between 1994 and 2003, the average time served by African Americans for a drug offense increased by 62%, compared with an increase of 17% for white drug offenders.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By T. Teater on April 1, 2014
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This is an outstanding scholarly discussion of the racial implications of the "war on drugs" that extends to other areas of American society. This book provides what is sorely lacking in discussions of critical issues, namely context and depth. I highly recommend this book.
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Okay....though much of it is now outdated, given changes in the law re: sentencing for crack and for powder cocaine.
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