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July 18, 2007

The Sentencing Project's new report on prison disparities

As first previewed in this post and as detailed here, the Sentencing Project has a new report providing "a regional examination of the racial and ethnic dynamics of incarceration," which "finds broad variations in racial disparity among the 50 states."  The report is entitled "Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity" and is available at this link

Among other interesting findings, these highlights from the report may surprise a few folks:

July 18, 2007 at 10:33 AM | Permalink

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The Sentencing Project has issued [blurb] its latest report [pdf] on State rates of incarceration based on race and ethnicity has some disturbing news for Connecticut. Connecticut is one of five states where African-Americans are incarcerated at twelv... [Read More]

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Comments

Minority status also tends to correlate with things like poverty that make one more likely to commit crimes.

All else being equal, those statistics would be a harsh indictment of the fairness of our criminal justice system. Unfortunately, all else is not equal (admittedly, for at least some reasons indicative of injustice), and the statistics are hardly surprising.

Posted by: | Jul 18, 2007 11:34:46 AM

There are also some strange arguments in there. The report criticizes school zone drug laws because they "produce severe racial effects due to housing patterns, whereby drug offenses committed near the urban areas that contain many communities of color are prosecuted more harshly than similar offenses in rural communities populated largely by whites."

The purpose of school zone drug laws is to protect children from being targeted by drug dealers. If that happens to snare a lot of people who aren't white, I don't think the problem lies with the law.

Posted by: | Jul 18, 2007 11:39:05 AM

It's not surprising to see that all those racist southerners are intent in locking up African-Americans to a disproportionate degree. Oh, wait . . .

There can't be systematic racism in the North, can there?

Mark

Posted by: Mark | Jul 18, 2007 12:43:55 PM

The essential fact of crime rates receives only a passing mention at the top of page 16. The report presents no data whatever to disaggregate the effect of sentencing policy from the effect of crime rate.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jul 18, 2007 1:18:42 PM

The incarceration rate is 1000 times the percent of the source population incarcerated. The following percentages are based on Bureau of Justice Statistics reports.

For Blacks in US prisons + jails 3.14% + 0.80% = 3.94%
For Whites in US prisons + jails 0.46% + 0.16% = 0.63%
96.0% of the Blacks are not incarcerated and 99.4% of the Whites are not incarcerated.


For Blacks in Iowa prisons + jails 2.94% + 1.36% = 4.30%
For Whites in Iowa prisons + jails 0.29% + 0.11% = 0.40%
95.7% of the Blacks are not incarcerated and 99.6% of the whites are not incarcerated.

About 20% of the Iowa prison inmates are returnees and my guess is that over half of the Iowa jail inmates are returnees.

I think the Des Moines Register overstated the problem.

This is not new we have known about this for years. Perhaps something will be done because we need to spend $200 million we don't have to upgrade and expand our prisons and we will need to find about $60 million per year that we don't have to operate the expanded system. No doubt someone will ask "How come other states have been able to reduce their prison populations why can't we do the same?"

Posted by: JSN | Jul 18, 2007 2:16:32 PM

The incarceration rate is 1000 times the percent of the source population incarcerated. The following percentages are based on Bureau of Justice Statistics reports.

For Blacks in US prisons + jails 3.14% + 0.80% = 3.94%
For Whites in US prisons + jails 0.46% + 0.16% = 0.63%
96.0% of the Blacks are not incarcerated and 99.4% of the Whites are not incarcerated.


For Blacks in Iowa prisons + jails 2.94% + 1.36% = 4.30%
For Whites in Iowa prisons + jails 0.29% + 0.11% = 0.40%
95.7% of the Blacks are not incarcerated and 99.6% of the whites are not incarcerated.

About 20% of the Iowa prison inmates are returnees and my guess is that over half of the Iowa jail inmates are returnees.

I think the Des Moines Register overstated the problem.

This is not new we have known about this for years. Perhaps something will be done because we need to spend $200 million we don't have to upgrade and expand our prisons and we will need to find about $60 million per year that we don't have to operate the expanded system. No doubt someone will ask "How come other states have been able to reduce their prison populations why can't we do the same?"

Posted by: JSN | Jul 18, 2007 2:16:47 PM

I am fond of the Sentencing Project and think they do a lot of good work drawing attention to important issues, like racial disparities in the criminal justice system. But despite my obvious bias, this report leaves me with a lot of questions about the data. Hawaii, with the lowest rate of disparity, has a very different racial composition from the rest of the country, as does Washington DC, with the highest. In Hawaii, whites make up less than 25% of the population, and in DC, blacks make up 60% of the population - both of which are way off from the national averages. It's been a long time since my last statistics class, but if we're going to compare across states, don't these numbers need to be corrected for disproportionality in state populations?

Posted by: Leah | Jul 18, 2007 3:13:12 PM

I would be willing to bet that, overall, white criminals are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than black criminals. How do I come to this conclusion? All you have to do is look to where significant portions of black criminals commit their crimes, large urban areas. It is beyond dispute that, in general, large urban areas are more lenient than other areas. Thus, since black criminals are likely to be more concentrated in these lenient areas, they are more likely to be the beneficiary of lenient criminal justice policies.

We can see something similar to this in the death penalty arena. White killers are more likely to be executed than black killers. (To prove this, all you have to do is look at the numbers. Non-Hispanic whites represent 58% of those executed since 1976--non-Hispanic whites have not committed 58% of murders since 1976.)

Posted by: federalist | Jul 19, 2007 12:01:28 AM

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