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April 10, 2007

Race, Inequality and Incarceration

This title of this post is the title of this event taking place tomorrow at Stanford University, which is described as an "intellectual summit addressing the causes, meanings, and effects of racial disproportion in the American criminal justice system with a focus on massive incarceration and racial disproportion in American prisons and jails."  Here is the set up for the first of four panels that all look amazing:

The numbers are now starkly and frighteningly clear.  The prison/jail population of the US now approaches two million, with the rate of increase itself dramatically increasing in recent years. African-Americans, representing about 13 percent of the American population, make up about 44 percent of the incarcerated population.  These devastating numbers obviously call on us to consider the most foundational questions about American society.  But to reframe the issues a bit more concretely, what are the specific institutional inputs or most immediate social inputs into these numbers?  And what metrics do the social sciences — and the humanities — offer us to grasp the significance of these numbers in American history and in comparison to the other nations?

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I think this event and the societal issues it addresses are far, far, far, far, far more important and newsworthy than any offensive and stupid comments by an offensive and stupid radio talk show host.

April 10, 2007 at 07:42 PM | Permalink

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Comments

So what? The NBA and NFL aren't representative either.

The fact is that the percentage of African-American criminals is higher than the percentage of African-Americans in the population.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 10, 2007 9:32:57 PM

It takes a lot of skill and years of practice to be a player in the NBA and NFL. Prison inmates were convicted of a crime and most jail inmates are there for pretrial or noncompliance with some serving short jail sentences. The small amount of data I have suggests that the racial distribution for jail inmates held more than three weeks is the same as that in prison. The chances are high that those held in jail more than three weeks will be convicted and sentenced to jail or returned to prison on a parole/probation revocation/suspension.

I am convinced that a low income African-American male is far more likely to be arrested than a middle class African-American male so that race is a factor but I think income and stable employment are more important factors. On occasion I attend a Black-Brown Forum where there is a mixture of Blacks, Hispanics and Whites. There are many middle and upper income Black males and females present as well as low income Blacks and they talk to the young low income Blacks about the importance of language. If a prospective employer can't understand what they are saying this is little chance they will be employed. I think that one of the best gifts you can give to a youngster is to teach them how to use language effectively.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 10, 2007 10:11:07 PM

I think that there is a hell of a lot of built-in lenience towards African-Americans in the criminal justice system due to geography. African-American defendants tend to be more concentrated in urban areas, which tend to be more liberal--hence nonsense 5 year sentences for 16 year-old murderers in Washington DC.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 10, 2007 10:18:47 PM

Rural neighborhoods have high vulnerability to criminal activity but the risk is low. Urban neighborhoods with high crime rates have both high vulnerability and risk. My experience is that you can find militant anti-crime sentiment in both types of neighborhood the difference is it is more dangerous to be anti-crime in an urban high crime neighborhood. The folks who want to remove people from prison don't expect them to move into their neighborhoods.

The vast majority of prison inmates are in prison less than five years. About half of them return to their neighborhoods and pick up their criminal activities where they left off. That make their neighbors very angry and the demand harsher penalties with the result that repeat offenders spend more time in prison and are less likely to be paroled. Recidivism is a tough problem and failing to deal with it effectively just provides more fuel for "tough on crime policies".

In Iowa legislation to increase penalties for drug crimes passes with near unanimous votes and is promptly signed by the Governor even though they all know it will further increase jail and prison crowding. I think that one of the reasons is the State Capital is in the edge of an urban high crime neighborhood where you can see billboard that say "Do the crime. Do the time".

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 11, 2007 9:20:19 AM

Well, I just stumbled across this blog site. It is interesting though, we don't really talk about women. In fact, African American women are incarcerated even at higher rates compared with all other ethnic women. I wonder how we start looking more closely at women's issues.

Posted by: Sage Kim | Apr 13, 2007 10:31:16 AM

I agree that women prisoners deserve more attention. About 60% of the Iowa women prison inmates have some type of mental illness which about twice the rate for male prison inmates. A lot of them are single mothers with minor children and that results in a large number of female specific issues.

There is a very high degree of geographical concentration in prisoner source neighborhoods. this was first noted in New York but is also true for Iowa (75% of the Iowa prisoners with known Iowa zip codes were from 67 zip codes and there are about 2,000 zip codes in use in Iowa). The source neighborhoods are all urban with high poverty rates and high concentrations of minorities. The racial enhancements for Blacks in prison run about twice that of source neighborhood. The percentage of Asians is small for both prison and the source neighborhood and the enhancements depend on the particular zip code for Hispanics and American Indians.

My conclusion is that most of the enhancement occurs at the time of arrest (Blacks males and females are more likely to be arrested) with further enhancements due to the decision to detain in jail. My guess is that the arrest rates for middle and upper income Blacks are much smaller than those for low income Blacks (they are probably smaller than those for of low income whites).

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 13, 2007 5:25:26 PM

Great point. In fact, the same pattern holds in Chicago area. A great proportion of incarcerated individuals are from just a few community areas. Also these communities are burdened by many health issues, drugs, and poverty. I agree that minorities living in poverty may be more likely to be incarcerated. But even before that, they are also more likely to be exposed to high risk neighborhood environment/other life experiences that affect the likelihood of engaging in criminal activities.

So, where are we in terms of other supports, treatment programs, drug courts, etc? Or, that too, are minorities less likely to receive or be referred to these alternatives to incarceration?

Posted by: Sage | Apr 15, 2007 11:17:38 PM

I do know that San Diego County and New York City have been able to reduce their jail populations and twelve states have been able to reduce their prison populations so some something must work. I would like to find out what remedies they tried and what worked. Most people I know in the alcohol/drug treatment area say that treatment aftercare is essential to prevent relapse. It is very difficult to get support to provide aftercare in the source neighborhoods.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 16, 2007 1:47:01 PM

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Posted by: DFDF | Jul 29, 2007 1:11:13 AM

Where can I find the most accurate statistics, by race, for the average prison/probation sentence, for predators (sexual crimes to under 12), in Lee County Florida? A direct link would be appreciated.

Posted by: Donnamarie | Jun 17, 2008 4:32:01 PM

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