OBJECTIVES: We investigated the extent to which racial/ethnic disparities in prison and diversion to drug treatment were explained by current arrest and criminal history characteristics among drug-involved offenders, and whether those disparities decreased after California's Proposition 36, which mandated first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders drug treatment instead of prison. METHODS: We analyzed administrative data on approximately 170 000 drug-involved arrests in California between 1995 and 2005. We examined odds ratios from logistic regressions for prison and diversion across racial/ethnic groups before and after Proposition 36. RESULTS: We found significant disparities in prison and diversion for Blacks and Hispanics relative to Whites. These disparities decreased after controlling for current arrest and criminal history characteristics for Blacks. Proposition 36 was also associated with a reduction in disparities, but more so for Hispanics than Blacks. CONCLUSIONS: Disparities in prison and diversion to drug treatment among drug-involved offenders affect hundreds of thousands of citizens and might reinforce imbalances in criminal justice and health outcomes. Our study indicated that standardized criminal justice policies that improved access to drug treatment might contribute to alleviating some share of these disparities.

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