The article notes that "For an entire cohort of young black men in America's inner cities, incarceration has become the more-likely-than-not norm, not the unthinkable exception". This observation has the hollow ring of familiarity to anyone that has read Malcolm X's autobiographical account of the young black man's experience of life in the ghetto suburbs of major American cities during the pre-civil rights era years of the '40s and '50s. (Or for that matter watched The Wire, or read Jay-Z's account of how he got involved in selling drugs).
Up to 1975 the US incarceration rate had been steady at about 100 per 100,000. Since then, the rate has ballooned to 700 per 100,000.
According to the article:
"Drug convictions alone account for more than 80 percent of the total increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995. In 2008, four of five drug arrests were for possession, and only one in five was for distribution; fully half of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses."
Blacks make up about 14% of monthly drug users, around the same proportion they represent of the total population. However, the statistics on drug crime are hugely disproportionate:
"37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses are black as well as 56 percent of those in state prisons for drug offenses. Blacks serve almost as much time in prison for drug offenses (average of 58.7 months) as whites do for violent crimes (average of 61.7 months)."