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New Fact Sheet: Racial Disparities Persist Amid Large Drug Arrest Declines in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – February 21, 2018 – In a new fact sheet from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Senior Research Fellow Mike Males finds that disproportionate felony drug arrests among African American residents continue during a period of drastic changes in San Francisco’s drug policing and statewide drug policy reforms.

San Francisco felony drug arrests by race, per 100,000, annual averages, 1977-2016

Sources: DOJ (2017); DRU (2017).

The fact sheet finds:

  • The city’s arrests for drug offenses have plummeted by 92 percent since the peak years of 1988-89 even as the city’s population grew by 150,000. The decline has been especially steep during the last seven years of statewide criminal justice reforms.
  • Racial disparities in 2016 narrowed from the peak year, 2008, but African Americans still experienced felony drug arrest rates 10 times higher than San Franciscans of other races, and 2.4 times higher than African Americans elsewhere in California.
  • Arrest rates of youth in San Francisco for drug felonies have declined by 94 percent in recent years, including a decline of 98 percent among African American youth.

  • Racial patterns in drug arrests still do not match racial patterns in drug use. Between 2012 and 2016, African Americans accounted for 25 percent of illicit drug deaths in San Francisco, but 42 percent of the city’s drug felony arrests.

Information in this fact sheet is excerpted from a recent study by CJCJ’s Senior Research Fellow, Mike Males, and San Jose State University Human Rights Institute Professor, William Armaline, with minor differences due to updated information from the California Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through 2016. The study, San Francisco’s Drug Arrests Drop 90% through 2016; Disproportionate Arrests of African Americans Persist, details drug arrest trends by race since the 1980s and provides comprehensive information on the city’s fluctuating drug arrest trends.

Read the full fact sheet >>

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please contact CJCJ Communications at (415) 400-5214 or

Keywords: drug arrests, drug policy, Mike Males

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