Gov't. Stats on Race and Drug Offenses Called Into Queston

I meant to write about this last week and since I think it deserves wider attention and haven't seen any challenges to it, I'm going to now. Tremble the Devil has done some serious numbers-crunching on the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics claiming that the disparity between the numbers of African-American and caucasian drug offenders in prison has substantially decreased.

A report by The Sentencing Project uses data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics [chart here]to come to the cheery conclusion that over the six-year period from 1999-2005 there was a 21.6% drop in African-Americans serving state prison time for drug offenses, while the number of whites increased by 42.6%.

According to Tremble the Devil, the drop is due to a change in the methodology: BJS (The Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of DOJ) stopped counting mixed black-white prisoners. They just disappeared from the statistics. In a footnote, BJS acknowledges: [More...]

"Data analysis procedures adopted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004 affected the categorization of persons identifying with two or more races... and had the result of a modest reduction in the number of persons identified as non-Hispanic white and black."

In other words, they were simply removed from the calculations and left off the chart.

And this change in how those who identified themselves as mixed race were counted and used in the calculations is what causes close to half the DoJ's initially reported 21.6% shift in black prisoners - only about 12% of that change really happened.

Take 2003 and 2004:

Between those two years, when it seems like the percentage of blacks plummets by 7.9%, 16,200 prisoners simply disappear. That's 6.5% of the data left unaccounted for when you factor in the 1.2% of Asians and other ethnicities left off every year of the chart.

After explaining why the mixed black and white prisoners would be counted as African American, which you can either agree or disagree with, he adds:

Either way, by simply removing 6.5% of the data in 2004 and never adjusting the previous years of the chart to reflect the fact that prisoners identified as mixed black-and-white were no longer being counted in the Black column starting in 2004, the DoJ is in effect lying about the reality of what's going on. Whether the DoJ intended to cook their books or not is irrevelent.

As to the import:

This assertion headlines every major newspaper article about the report, including articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. They all highlight the "fact" that there's been a 21.6% drop in blacks serving sentences for drug offenses.

....The whole truth is not coming out, a lie is being told, and the public is being misled about the role racism plays in the formation and implementation of America's drug laws. A role that stretches back well beyond the years covered in that chart.

The post continues with a very interesting history of the war on drugs and its inherent racism.

Racism is generally understood in America to have fallen to an all-time low. But this is an illusion, created because our prisons and the hundreds of thousands of black men inside of them are built at sites unseen.

A "subtler and more covert" racism has been enabled as prison populations artificially bend racially specific underemployment rates as "mass incarceration makes it easier for the majority culture to continue to ignore the urban ghettos that live on beneath official rhetoric."

Rather than quote any more, I hope you'll go over and read the whole thing.

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    Where does BJS get data on mixed races? (none / 0) (#1)
    by JSN on Fri May 01, 2009 at 01:23:09 PM EST
    Most prison systems I am familiar with give Asian, Black, Indian and White and sometimes Other for race and many also give the ethnicity as Hispanic or Non-Hispanic. I am not aware of any that give information on mixed races.

    Unless the BJS merged the prison data with census data they must be using partial data on mixed races and some type of procedure to adjust for unreported data. I know they make similar adjustments with respect to ethnicity in their analysis of the jail snapshot (many jails do not report ethnicity).