prisons still hold on to racial disparity

Black people are incarcerated in state prisons at 4.8 times rate of white people, according to a new report from The Sentencing Project

We go to The Sentencing Project for this week’s study, “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons” by Ashley Nellis.

Black Americans are incarcerated at 4.8 times the rate of white Americans.

  • Nationally, Latinx individuals are held in state prisons at a rate of 349 per 100,000 residents.

  • Nationally, one in 81 Black adults per 100,000 in the U.S. is serving time in state prison.

“A recent study of more than 60 million police stops between 2011 and 2015 across the U.S. revealed that Black drivers were stopped more frequently than white drivers and controlling for age, sex, time, and location, Black and Latinx drivers were more likely to be ticketed, searched, and arrested.”

  • Wisconsin leads the nation in Black imprisonment rates; one of every 36 Black Wisconsinites is in prison. 

    • Black people comprise only 6% of Wisconsin’s general population

    • Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration among its Black residents with 2,742 per 100,000 Black residents in prison.

“Black youth as young as nine years old express feelings of disparate treatment by law enforcement.”

  • In 12 states, more than half the prison population is Black

  • Seven states maintain a Black/white disparity larger than 9 to 1: California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wisconsin

  • Ethnic disparities are highest in Massachusetts, which reports an ethnic differential of 4.1:1.

“Media portrayals about crime tend to distort reality by disproportionately focusing on stories of those involving serious crimes and those committed by people of color, especially Black-on-white violent crime.”

  • ​​In New Jersey, Blacks are incarcerated at a rate over twelve times that of whites 

    • even though the Black incarceration rate is 19% below the national average. 

“The criminal legal system is held together by policies and practices, both formal and informal, which influence the degree to which an individual penetrates the system.”

  • Arkansas has a Black/white ratio of 3.6:1 and Florida has a Black/white ratio of 4.1:1

    • The national average is 4.8:1

    • Despite falling below the national average, both states incarcerate African Americans at higher than average rates, 29% higher in Arkansas and 14% higher in Florida.

A noteworthy understanding when assessing these statistics:

  • “It is important to keep in mind that the absence or unreliability of ethnicity data in some states produces ethnic disparities in those states that may be understated.”

Read the whole study here.  


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