Report: Blacks Locked Up 5x More Than Whites

The Sentencing Project has released its latest report on racial disparties in prison sentences. Among the findings:

Blacks in the United States are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites, and Hispanics are locked up at nearly double the white rate, according to a study released Wednesday by a criminal justice policy group.

The worst of the states:

In five states - Iowa, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Wisconsin - African Americans are incarcerated at more than ten times the rate of whites.

You can read the report here (pdf.)

Among the recommended fixes:

  • Revisit the domestic drug control strategy, including recalibrating sentencing laws, such as the federal cocaine statutes which result in disproportionate numbers of low-level offenders being prosecuted;
  • Revisit the wisdom of mandatory minimum sentencing and restore appropriate judicial discretion to incorporate individual circumstances in the sentencing decision;
  • Establish enforceable and binding standards for indigent defense that ensure the provision of quality representation for all defendants;
  • Mandate that all legislation affecting the prison population be accompanied by a Racial Impact Statement to document the projected consequences for persons of color.
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    Race-based or Economic-opportunity based? (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Cheesehead on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 11:04:45 PM EST
    Having lived in both Iowa and Wisconsin for long periods of time, I can say that the incarceration of peoples of color is predominately due to economic status and drug policy.  Little crime occurs in the rural (predominately white) areas of these states.  Most of the crime occurs in the larger cities.  Providing educational and employment opportunities, and changing the drug policies would do a world of wonder for these inner-city communities.  Unfortunately much of this is controlled at the federal level.  Enough said.

    Re: Race-based or Economic-opportunity based? (none / 0) (#10)
    by A DC Wonk on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 09:53:51 AM EST
    Agreed.  Granted, I didn't read the report, only the reporting on the report.  But you can't just look at two variables (race and incarceration rate) and infer anything causal.  Question: was socio-economic class taken into account?

    Now, despite all that I said, we also know that the crack/cocaine disparity does disproportionately effect non-whites.  That, in theory, is an easy fix.  In reality . . . it takes a strong politician to be able to say, "let's lower the sentence for crack dealers."


    whu? (none / 0) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 05:06:18 PM EST
    Revisit the wisdom of mandatory minimum sentencing and restore appropriate judicial discretion to incorporate individual circumstances in the sentencing decision;
    That's a solution to this problem? From the link:
    the discretion of policymakers and practitioners in decisions
    related to arrest, conviction, sentencing, and severity of statutory punishment all play a key role in determining state rates of imprisonment.
    iow, the report says, among other things, that blacks are imprisoned more often than whites and Latinos  because of the discretion in the system.

    It would seem to me that the solution for such discretion - which according to the article negatively impacts blacks - is to remove that discretion.


    Cue the (none / 0) (#7)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 05:58:02 AM EST

    Has anyone ever determined which race commits more crimes per capita? Personally I don't care, but I tire of these comparisons which mean nothing on the face of them unless that question is answered.  

    If someone commits a crime for which the punishment is incarceration, they should be incarcerated.  I don't care if they are purple...

    So if someone has a link to a legitimate study that answers the above ? please let me know.  


    Race data at the time of arrest is available (none / 0) (#8)
    by JSN on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 07:45:53 AM EST
    but I have only seen a few studies based on that information. One is a study on the races of victim and perpetrator  done by the Iowa Dept. of Public Safety. I believe that other similar studies have been done by others.

    I have used data from our jail and the high Black/White ratio 17% Black when 4% is expected is established at the time of arrest and does not change much after initial appearance. I would not apply this finding to other jails because local factors are important.

    Except for driving while barred and property crimes the B/W ratios for arrestees (all persons held less than a day) are about what one would expect. In other words the list of offenses for Blacks is shorter than that for Whites.

    For detainees (all persons held more than a day) there are major differences between Blacks and Whites. Blacks account for 52% of the bed usage by persons charged with felony crimes against persons, property and drug offenses and 52% of the bed usage for parole/probation, non-contact violations and contempt. White account for 83% of the bed usage for crimes against public order (enhanced public intoxication charges and DUI).

    Anyone who visits a jail or prison and in particular a juvenile detention facility knows that Blacks have been over represented for a long time and what this new study is saying is the problem continues.


    I think it is important to look at (none / 0) (#9)
    by JSN on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 08:16:27 AM EST
    source populations of jails and prisons. In other words where do the inmates come from and what do they have in common. What I found for our jail was that we have 148 Black recidivists and 682 White recidivists who provide us with most of our jail detainees.

    It appears that many of them live in low income housing projects and as a group they are involved in serious criminal behavior. if you remove the drunks the Blacks and Whites have the same offense-type profiles. the main B/W difference is the Blacks are more likely to have an offense class at the felony level.

    In our community the police are responding to a call for assistance when they make an arrest at the felony level. The vast majority of such calls come from low income housing projects.


    Another factor is the Blacks may wait too (none / 0) (#13)
    by JSN on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 02:32:18 PM EST
    long to call for help. One of our parole officers was asking the children in project what it would take for them to call the police.
    They said that if they saw blood they would call. If that is the case the problem is already at or near the felony level.

    The Blacks have good reasons for having mixed emotions about the police but they should call for help in a timely manner.


    Isn't That (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 02:44:25 PM EST
    A double edged sword. Given the feeling, expressed by Patrick above, and many other law enforcers, that Blacks tend to be criminals, couldn't your plan backfire and land even more blacks in jail?

    More calls=more arrests.

    And as far as the felony level goes it seems that there is quite a bit of discretion by the arresting officer.

    THe decks are stacked.


    No police decretion for domestic assault and (none / 0) (#16)
    by JSN on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 03:37:19 PM EST
    essentially no discretion at the felony level. The chances of being released from jail at initial appearance or after bond reduction review are small for a any felony and tiny for a violent felony. At the misdemeanor level they could be released on recognizance.



    Really? (none / 0) (#17)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 04:09:14 PM EST
    Seems that the way it works in NYC is that someone makes a complaint, or not,  and the police respond with arrest and afterwards get a warrant from a DA. The police determine what to tell the DA.

    White guy has a much better chance of avoiding arrest than a black guy. It is up to the discretion of the officer how he or she will pitch it to the DA.

    Substantially more Blacks are "randomly" stopped than whites.


    The police have 100% discretion if (none / 0) (#18)
    by JSN on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 05:20:33 PM EST
    there is a shoving match or someone is punched. For a first degree murder (Class A felony) the DA is in charge and the police have no discretion. There is a continuum of violent behavior the police call the shots at the low end and the DA calls the shots at the high end.

    It is not just the cops who suspect Blacks we have people who call the police if a Black walks in their neighborhood (Walking your dog while Black! What bigots!) and if Black kids who are hanging out make too much noise a cops shows up because someone called. No wonder they think they live in a police state.


    Yes (none / 0) (#19)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 05:25:18 PM EST
    They do live in a police state.

    Yes, we do live under a police state (none / 0) (#20)
    by Electa on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 07:38:04 PM EST
    which poses an even greater security threat to our communities.  Given the lack of trust and historical poor relations between Blacks and law enforcement it's no wonder rap artist can so easily enforce a "No Snitch Policy" in the communities.  Talking to the police is equivalent to dealing with Satan.

    Interesting info, JSN, (none / 0) (#15)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 02:54:51 PM EST

    I wonder why???? (none / 0) (#21)
    by Electa on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 07:51:30 PM EST
    "The vast majority of such calls come from low income housing projects."  Could it be from the possible concentration of intergenerational poverty? What sane person would think that given the conditions of most public housing communities, projects do come to an end, that there will be normalcy.  

    As gross as most may think these communities are they are communities with good people living in them.  Although voiceless there are plenty of good people living in subsidized housing communities.  The violence and lack of confidence in America's institutions is directly associated with abjunct poverty and marginalization.

    John Edwards probably won't win the 08 election but at least his campaign is keeping the issue of poverty at the forefront, where it should be.  That's a good thing.


    Crowding is a big factor and poverty another. (none / 0) (#22)
    by JSN on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 09:23:50 PM EST
    When people get out of prison they are unemployed they need a place to live and they don't have a lot of options. So the Fascists in our community talked the city council into passing an ordinance preventing landlords from renting to felons. So the felons moved in with tenants who were not felons increasing the crowding and poverty. Unfortunately some of them are taking advantage of their benefactors who no doubt are good people.

    I wish we could spread these people out so they can interact with ordinary folks and  become functional members of the community. There is not much chance of that happening because of subdivision rules which are effectively racist (probably by design).

    On the other hand if you consider what it was like in 1945 progress has been made.


    Over crowding (none / 0) (#23)
    by Electa on Fri Jul 20, 2007 at 06:20:56 PM EST
    Is there a re-entry program in your community?  If not there should be.  W/O reading the ordinance seems to me violates the Fair Housing Act. Maybe these individuals should check with legal aid or contact the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law or the National Fair Housing Alliance for legal support.  That's sucks and ordinance prohibiting landlords from renting to felons.  If such an ordinance is allowed to stand with the same practice apply to lending institutions.  The problem is the government itself HUD allows PHAs the option of not leasing to people with criminal backgrounds.  Most Housing Authorities opt to select on a case by case basis given the crime.  Someone with a drug or domestic violence offense would have a more difficult time getting housing than a white collar or shoplifting offense.

    The number of inmates being released daily is causing a significant problem for service providers and some states are now allocating funding for re-entry programs that tie into their 10 yr. homeless elimination strategic plans.  Re-entry issues caused NGA to start a program to examine and make recommendations how to approach this situation.  Again, another ex. of America's failed War on Drugs and discriminatory sentencing schemes...now what about the human bounty?  Maybe DEA and DOJ should use some the millions of assets stripped from our communities through seizures to accommodate these communities now having to figure out what to do with the prisoners of war that are returning home.


    Exactly... (none / 0) (#11)
    by Electa on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 12:36:58 PM EST
    "Anyone who visits a jail or prison and in particular a juvenile detention facility knows that Blacks have been over represented for a long time and what this new study is saying is the problem continues."  Every Black mother in America, regardless of her socio-economic background, fears for the life and security of her sons in this country.  My sons are both professional, neither have negatively encountered law enforcement, they work hard and take care of their families.  Yet, as black men they live in fear in this so-called land of the free.  

    A growing number of Black families are taking extraordinary measures to protect their sons.  Removing them from public schools into a homeschool setting is being adopted by more and more black parents.  I removed my sons from publix school in the 80s at the onset of the gang culture.  Today they thank me for having the courage to take such drastic measures to save their lives and contribute my actions to  the men they've become.  My daughter will be homeschooling her son this school year.  Our sons are targeted at the grammar and middle school levels receiving all forms of labeling.  

    The square root causes of the problems are too deeply engulfed in the dark history of this country to elaborate here. The study simply reflects the historically deep rooted hatred of America towards Blacks that hide out under institutional and systemic racism in its purest form.

    My question is how long does America think we'll continue to see our children and men used as chattel before a massive taking to the streets occurs similarily to the 60s.  It's brewing in every major urban and rural community across the country and everyone is claiming stupid as if it's not happening.

    My girlfriend and I just returned from a 3,000 mi. road trip in preparation for a documentary I'm working on.  We wanted to learn if this problem is concentrated in just urban areas.  We  quickly realized that the problem is just as profound in Tunica, MS as in Washington, DC.  The pots are boiling and as sure as the stars reside in heaven there's going to be a spillover in America and it won't be pretty.  The systemic hatred is far greater than I'd anticipated and unfortunately the system through the eyes of black folks equals the white man.  That's just the way it is.  



    question of whether crimes are committed equally by all races.

    Having read, ok, skimmed, the linked report, one thing I did notice was that women, of all races, were under-represented.

    If women commit less crime then that's all good.

    But if women are incarcerated less than men for roughly equivalent crimes, well, I expect the card-carrying ACLU members of TL to swell with moral outrage and get that fixed, toot sweet.


    Huh. More crickets.


    Gun Control laws (none / 0) (#2)
    by Ben Masel on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 08:16:45 PM EST
    In practice, we get federally funded task forces to "get the guns off the streets" of inner cities, jacking mostly young men of color. There's no similar task forces busting into suburban garages looking for unlicensed firearms.

    Please send copies of this report... (none / 0) (#3)
    by Aaron on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 09:46:47 PM EST
    ...to the "honorable" Chief Justice John Roberts, and the "honorable" Justice Antonin Scalia and most especially the "honorable" Justice Clarence Thomas.

    Reports to jurist.... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Electa on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 10:39:08 PM EST
    excuse me?  What do you think sending copies of the report to these jurist will do?  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  It is going to take a massive global organizing effort and outcry from the global community to bring this human rights travesty to the forefront and end.  No longer can the US hide it's continued use of slavery under the guise of imprisonment.  Slavery is alive and well in the USofA.  Let's call it for what it is  apartheid, genocide and ethnic cleasening.  Genocide in Darfar...Genocide in America.  

    Going to prison was one of best things that's happened to me in life.  My eyes were opened to the TRUTH about what's happening in America's judicial and prison systems.  Had I not been unjustly sent to prison I'd be still walking in the dark like most Americans on this issue.  Today I'm committed to letting the world know what's taking place in the under belly of  America the Beautiful....the ugly face of SLAVERY.

    Thanks to organizations like the Sentencing Project who  untiringly work to balance the scales of justice in this crooked and warped judical system, advocates are better armed to fight this battle.  


    Knowledge of Rights (none / 0) (#5)
    by Ben Masel on Wed Jul 18, 2007 at 10:52:36 PM EST
    1999, I was on a panel with the (black) commander of Madison's (not quite predominantly) South Side precinct, discussing racial dispearity in the City's drug arrest stats.

    He offered "Half the time when a kid gets rousted on State Street (campus area) he pulls out one of your cards ("Notice to law Enforcement Officers: I do not consent to a search"), and we have to let them go. On the South Side, the kid's parents have all warned them to do whatever the Officer wants." Offstage later, he elaborated, the parents in his precinct had frequently moved from Chicago or the South, where declining would get the kid roughed up. "We wouldn't do that here, but the parents don't trust us on that."