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Race & Justice News: Racial Disparity in Opioid Treatment

June 03, 2019
Treatment disparity for opioid use disorder, Phoenix Sheriff's Deputies halve traffic stops amidst racial bias scrutiny, less violence reporting in new immigrant destinations, and more in Race & Justice News.

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Treatment Disparity for Opioid Use Disorder

White Americans have had “near exclusive access” to buprenorphine (brand name Suboxone), a medication used to treat opioid use disorder, reports Martha Bebinger for NPR. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry by Pooja A. Lagisetty and colleagues, although the national prevalence of opioid misuse is similar for black and white adults, between 2012 and 2015 buprenorphine treatment was overwhelmingly concentrated among whites and those with either private insurance or who self-payed. 

Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University, explains that the federal requirement for special training to prescribe buprenorphine and a related cap on the number of patients that doctors can manage on the medication contributes to doctors demanding cash for the treatment. “The few that are doing it are really able to name their price,” Kolodny explained. Lagisetty and colleagues’ study of nationally representative data also revealed that even “after accounting for payment method, sex, and age … black patients had statistically significantly lower odds of receiving buprenorphine prescription at their visits.” 

Phoenix Sheriff’s Deputies Halve Traffic Stops Amidst Racial Bias Scrutiny

Sheriff’s deputies in metropolitan Phoenix cut traffic stops by half between 2015 and 2018, following a federal judge’s finding that the department was racially profiling Latinos amidst then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration crackdowns, reports AZCentral. The judge’s ruling came in 2013 and ordered an overhaul of the agency, including of its internal affairs operations. Sheriff Paul Penzone, Arpaio’s successor, and others have indicated that deputies fear that their reasons for traffic stops will be unfairly scrutinized or that they’ll face internal affairs investigations. 

David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, explained that officers may now be focused on the quality rather than quantity of arrests: “Now, they actually have to think about whether that’s a good idea, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all,” Harris said. While the agency has made progress under Penzone’s leadership, racial disparities persist. The most recent audit of the agency’s traffic stops found police were more likely to search and arrest Latino drivers compared to white drivers and to stop them for a longer period of time. 

Less Violence Reporting in New Immigrant Destinations

Residents of new immigrant destinations are less likely to report their violent crime victimization to the police, Min Xie and Eric P. Baumer conclude based on their analysis of national data from 1999-2014, published in Criminology. Their study, “Neighborhood Immigrant Concentration and Violent Crime Reporting to the Police: A Multilevel Analysis of Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey,” finds when the total immigrant population in a new immigrant destination reaches around one-third, residents become less likely to report crime victimization. They found this effect among black, white, and Latino residents in these communities, likely due to neighborhood-wide legal cynicism. This trend did not hold for established immigrant communities. 

New immigrant communities are more likely than traditional destinations to enact aggressive immigration enforcement policies and other laws restricting immigrants’ rights and opportunities, the authors explain, which may produce skepticism about reporting crimes. Legal cynicism is less prevalent in longstanding immigrant communities which are more likely to have progressive immigration policies which improve cooperation with the police. The authors note that this study’s “findings do not alter the now well-established conclusion that crime rates are lower in immigrant neighborhoods” since their past research has shown that even after accounting for unreported victimization, immigrants have a protective effect on their neighborhoods. 

Stop, Question and Frisk Widened New York City’s Academic Achievement Gap

African American boys who lived in New York City neighborhoods that experienced a high stop-and-frisk rate performed more poorly in school, according to Joscha Legewie and Jeffrey Fagan in the American Sociological Review. Under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the New York Police Department launched “Operation Impact” in 2004 to place more police officers in crime hot spots, referred to as impact zones. Impact zones rotated, lasting from five months to more than seven years, and increased pedestrian stops by 33% as part of the “Stop, Question and Frisk” program later deemed unconstitutional. Roughly four in five people stopped were people of color. 

In “Aggressive Policing and the Educational Performance of Minority Youth,” Legewie and Fagan compared school and police records in the impact zones. Comparing academic results before and after the imposition of impact zone, detrimental impacts for African American boys emerged at age 12 and grew through age 15, increasing the black-white test score gap by an equivalent amount to low teacher quality. The study did not find a statistically significant impact for white and Latino boys or for girls of any ethnicity. The authors argue that “a better understanding and regular assessment of the social consequences of policing should play a key role in evaluation of police programs and police accountability.”

Eberhardt: “Bias Is Not Something We Cure, it’s Something We Manage”

In her new book, Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, Jennifer Eberhardt examines the impact of unconscious bias in policing and other societal domains. Eberhardt, an award-winning professor of psychology at Stanford University who has consulted widely with law enforcement agencies, illustrates how psychological research can inform a Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer’s killing of unarmed Terence Crutcher. The stereotypic black-crime association may have contributed to Crutcher’s stop, she explains, and racial bias likely contributed to his being perceived as larger than he was, his movements perceived as potentially harmful, and to the speed of the officer’s decision to shoot. 

Eberhardt discusses how training against bias is a balancing act. People should recognize that bias is common but shouldn’t excuse it as a norm. Organizations offering anti-bias training must avoid “moral credentialing,” whereby they over-rely on training and underemphasize the hard work of mitigating the impact of bias through monitoring and by addressing the cultural practices and policies that produce inequities. Ultimately, Eberhardt told NPR, “Bias is not something we cure, it’s something we manage.” 

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