Reversing a longtime trend, the incarceration rate for African Americans declined significantly over the last ten years, particularly among women. As the New York Times highlights, the drop is a noteworthy shift in the stark racial disparities that “have long characterized” both the prison and incarceration systems. Overall, however, U.S. incarceration rates remain the highest rate in the world, and the proportion of African Americans who are locked up — particularly men from certain demographics – remains shockingly high. In a new study by The Sentencing Project, Mark Mauer provides the take-aways:
- Racial/ethnic disparities in U.S. incarceration remain substantial – In 2009, African Americans and Latinos constituted more than 60% of imprisoned offenders. African American males were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at 6.4 times the rate of non-Hispanic white males, and Hispanic males at 2.4 times the rate of non-Hispanic whites.
- Declining rate of incarceration for African Americans – From 2000 to 2009 the rate of incarceration in state and federal prisons declined 9.8% for black men and 30.7% for black women.
- Rates of incarceration for whites and Latinos generally rising – Incarceration rates for white men and women rose 8.5% and 47.1%, respectively from 2000 to 2009. For Hispanics the men’s rate declined by 2.2% while the women’s rate rose by 23.3%.
- Dramatic shift in racial disparities among women – In 2000 black women were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at six times the rate of white women. By 2009 that ratio had declined by 53%, to 2.8:1. This shift was a result of both declining incarceration of African American women and rising incarceration of white women. The disparity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women declined by 16.7% during this period.
It is noteworthy that even beyond these general trends, particular populations of African Americans suffer dramatically in our current criminal justice system. Black men between age 20 and 34 with no high school diploma, for example, are more likely to end up in jail than to have a job, according to a 2010 Pew Charitable Trust study. A new study just out shows that blacks receive sentences that are 20 percent longer than whites. Studies have long shown that the death penalty is imposed in a discriminatory manner. And police stops and arrests of questionable constitutionality are imposed disproportionately on minorities.
And even with slightly less disparate imprisonment in a mass incarceration system that Michelle Alexander dubbed the New Jim Crow, there’s not much about the world’s highest incarceration rate to celebrate. These statistics do accompany another bit of good news, though. Just Thursday, The Root reported that there are no longer more black men in jail than in college.