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February 17, 2014

Noticing racial disproportion in who ends up serving time in private prisons

People-of-color-private-prisonsThis new Mother Jones piece, headlined "Why There's an Even Larger Racial Disparity in Private Prisons Than in Public Ones," highlights a new study concerning the racial composition of private prison populations.  Here is how the piece begins, with all the notable links (including a link to the discussed study) included: 

It's well known that people of color are vastly overrepresented in US prisons. African Americans and Latinos constitute 30 percent of the US population and 60 percent of its prisoners. But a new study by University of California-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella addresses a fact of equal concern. Once sentenced, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to serve time in private prisons, which have higher levels of violence and recidivism (PDF) and provide less sufficient health care and educational programming than equivalent public facilities.

The study compares the percentage of inmates identifying as black or Hispanic in public prisons and private prisons in nine states. It finds that there are higher rates of people of color in private facilities than public facilities in all nine states studied, ranging from 3 percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in California and Oklahoma.  According to Petrella, this disparity casts doubt on cost-efficiency claims made by the private prison industry and demonstrates how ostensibly "colorblind" policies can have a very real effect on people of color.

The study points out an important link between inmate age and race. Not only do private prisons house high rates of people of color, they also house low rates of individuals over the age of 50 — a subset that is more likely to be white than the general prison population.  According to the study, "the states in which the private versus public racial disparities are the most pronounced also happen to be the states in which the private versus public age disparities are most salient." (California, Mississippi, and Tennessee did not report data on inmate age.)

Private prisons have consistently lower rates of older inmates because they often contractually exempt themselves from housing medically expensive—which often means older—individuals (see excerpts from such exemptions in California, Oklahoma, and Vermont), which helps them keep costs low and profits high. This is just another example of the growing private prison industry's prioritization of profit over rehabilitation, which activists say leads to inferior prison conditions and quotas requiring high levels of incarceration even as crime levels drop. The number of state and federal prisoners housed in private prisons grew by 37 percent from 2002 to 2009, reaching 8 percent of all inmates in 2010.

The high rate of incarceration among young people of color is partly due to the war on drugs, which introduced strict sentencing policies and mandatory minimums that have disproportionately affected non-white communities for the past 40 years. As a result, Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows that in 2009, only 33.2 percent of prisoners under 50 reported as white, as opposed to 44.2 percent of prisoners aged 50 and older.

So when private prisons avoid housing older inmates, they indirectly avoid housing white inmates as well. This may explain how private facilities end up with "a prisoner profile that is far younger and far 'darker'... than in select counterpart public facilities."

Private prisons claim to have more efficient practices, and thus lower operating costs, than public facilities. But the data suggest that private prisons don't save money through efficiency, but by cherry-picking healthy inmates.  According to a 2012 ACLU report, it costs $34,135 to house an "average" inmate and $68,270 to house an individual 50 or older. In Oklahoma, for example, the percentage of individuals over 50 in minimum and medium security public prisons is 3.3 times that of equivalent private facilities.

"Given the data, it's difficult for private prisons to make the claim that they can incarcerate individuals more efficiently than their public counterparts," Petrella tells Mother Jones.  "We need to be comparing apples to apples. If we're looking at different prisoner profiles, there is no basis to make the claim that private prisons are more efficient than publics."

February 17, 2014 at 05:43 PM | Permalink

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Comments

So basically this Mother Jones article is stirring the racialist pot. Good reason for it to be ignored.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 17, 2014 8:12:55 PM

federalist --

"So basically this Mother Jones article is stirring the racialist pot. Good reason for it to be ignored."

I must respectfully disagree. That the pro-criminal crowd likes to stir the racialist pot is precisely the reason we should pay attention to them. It's yet more evidence -- not that more is needed -- of the liberal McCarthyism that is, increasingly, the main thing we're hearing. When you run out of argument, you just snarl "RACIST" at the opposition, in the hope that you can intimidate them into silence.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 17, 2014 9:26:47 PM

I am not quite sure how this empirical research amounts to a snarl of "RACIST" or is a form of "liberal McCarthyism." In addition, I trust you realize, Bill, that I am not eager to silence anyone. Rather, I am eager to provide a cyber soap-box for all perspectives. (Disappointingly, I continue to have a hard time getting info from NAAUSA, but maybe that is just another result of the liberal McCarthyism that you think is now running rampant.)

Racism concerns aside, I think the selection bias dynamics that surround private prisons is an important one, and one that it seems tends to get under-examined. Thus, I find the research here notable and important, though I am eager to report on lots of other private-prison (and faith-based prison and all other prison) research that is being done in an era in which prisons are a social and political institute comparable in size and importance as the modern military.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 17, 2014 11:30:42 PM

Doug --

"I am not quite sure how this empirical research amounts to a snarl of "RACIST" or is a form of "liberal McCarthyism."

In the same way, although more subtlely and politely, as the more typical accusations, sometimes implied and sometimes explicit, that federalist, TarlsQtr, Adamakis, Kent and I are racists for taking conservative positions on sentencing issues.

Over the last several days, several of us have explicitly been called racist or sadistic or both, and not one time have you raised even a slight question about that. But now that federalist and I note the race-card rumblings about an eighth of an inch below the surface this "empirical research," you furrow your brow.

The epithet "racist" is hurled on this blog with increasing frequency, and it is hurled either out of atrocious manners (at best) or to drive conservatives off the board (at worst).

"In addition, I trust you realize, Bill, that I am not eager to silence anyone."

I'm glad you aren't. As I was saying to federalist, your all-comments-allowed policy helps display liberal intolerance, and its bitterness in assuming the worst about anyone with the temerity to disagree with its Accepted Doctrine, for what it is. But it would not be silencing anyone for you to sound a note of distress that one segment of commenters is trying to drive another segment into silence by repeatedly using rude, insulting and scurrilous remarks.

Why haven't you?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 18, 2014 1:44:51 AM

Not all comments are allowed. Perhaps, it is by mistake, but many comments fail to be posted.

"It's well known that people of color are vastly overrepresented in US prisons." There is no over-representation if compared to crime victimization rates, over 90% of which are intra-racial.

And the summary above does explain the number of blacks in private prison, their younger age, and the reluctance of private prisons to pay for the health care of older prisoners, who are more often white.

All "-isms" and "-ophobias" are folk statistics, 80% true, 80% of the time. So if you give your money to be managed by a black man, and hire a Jew for your professional basketball team you deserve the consequences. One might bring up the names of famous Jewish basketball players, and the black Presidents of financial corporations. Yes, that would make the point by their rarity and count on the fingers of a single hand. I would have voted for one of them for President, then the feminist lawyers destroyed him in public. This black man was a turnaround artist, and badly needed by the nation as President, but the feminists got to him. Now we have the unending economic morass.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 18, 2014 3:51:02 AM

I would support a purge of left wing extremists from all responsible policy positions.

Could an active member of the KKK hold office in 2014?

Then why should there be any feminist? What the KKK was to 1914, it is to 2014. Politically correct, a proud badge for public figures, totally racially supremacists, with reproductive rights being lawyer code for the restraint of the fecundity of women of darker color.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 18, 2014 3:57:18 AM

If it"

- Walks Like a Duck,

- Talks Like a Duck,

- Quacks Like a Duck,

It is a "Faux" conservative and not a whatever McCarthyism.

Dang. I really, really HATE the labeling of comments as conservative or liberal because they mean NOTHING and simply obfuscate the topic and hide real potential discussions behind meaningless platitudes!

It is a salve for damaged minds!

Posted by: albeed | Feb 18, 2014 8:03:21 AM

| February 17, 2014
Noticing racial disproportion
in who ends up serving time in private prisons
This new Mother Jones piece, headlined "Why There's an Even Larger Racial Disparity in Private Prisons Than in Public Ones," highlights a new study concerning the racial composition of private prison populations.

It's well known that people of color are vastly overrepresented in US prisons. African Americans and Latinos … Once sentenced, people of color … inmates identifying as black or Hispanic … higher rates of people of color … how ostensibly "colorblind" policies can have a very real effect on people of color. … race …high rates of people of color … a subset that is more likely to be white … “racial disparities are the most pronounced”…

The high rate of incarceration among young people of color … disproportionately affected non-white communities … only 33.2 percent of prisoners under 50 reported as whitehousing white inmates as well. …"a prisoner profile that is far younger and far 'darker'...

Petrella says his results "shed light on the ways in which ostensibly colorblind policies and attitudes can actually have very racially explicit outcomes. Racial discrimination cannot exist legally, yet still manifests itself."

Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News, calls the study a "compelling case" … race disparities in public and private prison facilities. … "The modern private prison industry has its origins …developed during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, as a means of incarcerating freed slaves and leasing them to private companies," he says. "Sadly, Mr. Petrella's research indicates that the exploitation of minority prisoners continues..."

 So even when activists admit a policy is colourblind, this is not enough?
 What happened to judging a person by the content of his character, rather than the colour of his skin?

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 18, 2014 8:58:18 AM

You ask a fair question, Bill, and here is my honest reply: I share your concern that folks throw around labels like racist of fascist in an effort to intimidate opponents into silence. But I have come to expect such comments from the left --- in part as a result of (too much?) time in the legal academy, where I have come to see that more on the left than on the right resist open and honest debate about a range of ideas and different perceptions of reality.

But when "racism" comments come from the right, such as the first comment made by federalist combined with his encouragement to ignore this new research about private prison populations, I am surprised. My sense of most folks on the right --- especially those who have the courage to engage with this blog in a forum that tend to lean left --- is that they are eager to resist using these kinds of labels that shut down serious engagement with a range of ideas and different perceptions of reality.

I apologize that I do not try to call out comments that are not civil toward other comments, but I have neither the time nor energy nor ability to be a civility cop in the comments. Thus, I just hope commentors will try their best to be civil and will readily recognize that most name-calling is childish and reflects much worse on the name-caller than on whomever the name is directed toward. Moreover, as you rightly note, the very tendency toward name-calling in this forum (coming from the right and the left and from all sorts of other political directions) I think helps highlight for everyone how raw and real emotions can be in this setting and how hard it is to keep discussion about such important matters civil. And that fact itself is, for me, one of the things that enables me to keep learning from the comments in this arena.

Hope this explanation makes sense, Bill, and that everyone appreciates the spirit with which I promote a "let every flower (even the ugly, boring, repetitive ones) bloom" approach to the comments to this blog.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 18, 2014 11:23:30 AM

| “such as the first comment made by federalist combined with his encouragement to ignore this new research” – D. Berman|

I find not the research to be objectionable, but the unjustifiable conjecture and absurdity which accompanies it, e.g.:

• A. Friedmann: "The modern private prison industry has its origins … following the Civil War, as a means of incarcerating freed slaves and leasing them …
Mr. Petrella's research indicates that the exploitation of minority prisoners continues … by privately-operated prisons and jails."

----------- ??? Private prisons are continuing the exploitation of minorities as they originally had done with freed slaves during Reconstruction ???
Were they wrongfully incarcerating innocent freed slaves?
Are they now wrongfully incarcerating innocent minorities? Have you a smattering of frontotemporal dementia?

• “So when private prisons avoid housing older inmates, they indirectly avoid housing white inmates as well.”
“Racial discrimination cannot exist legally, yet still manifests itself."

----------- !!! No, this is called age selection, just as with geriatric wings on hospitals. It’s as “discriminatory” as a pre-school !!!

• The condemnation of MLK-styled “colorblind policies and attitudes” because of their “very real effect on people of color” with “very racially explicit outcomes”
is also a pathetic crack.

[The activists are so typically grasping for straws of “racism”, so supportive of low expectations and excuses for criminality.]

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 18, 2014 2:35:30 PM

Doug --

Thank you for your answer.

"You ask a fair question, Bill, and here is my honest reply: I share your concern that folks throw around labels like racist of fascist in an effort to intimidate opponents into silence. But I have come to expect such comments from the left --- in part as a result of (too much?) time in the legal academy, where I have come to see that more on the left than on the right resist open and honest debate about a range of ideas and different perceptions of reality."

Candor like that is one of the things that makes this blog so valuable.

I have five reasons for thinking that federalist was right to be dismissive of this "empirical research."

First, "empirical research" from Mother Jones has about as much claim to intellectual weight as "empirical research" from Human Events.

Second, as Adamakis notes, the "research" is actually just the prologue for the usual Mother Jones stunt, to wit, stoking white guilt. It takes about three sentences before we're off to the races about the Klan and Reconstruction.

Third, the object here is less to undermine private prisons (about which I don't know enough to have an opinion), than to undermine the idea that imprisonment should be used at all, since it's just the White Man's Revenge.

Fourth and relatedly, the idea is to portray prisoners (that is, adjudicated criminals) as victims rather than victimizers.

Fifth and by far most important, it makes neither practical nor moral sense to obsess about demographic characteristics (race, age or sex) while ignoring, as if non-existent, the controlling factor in deciding who goes to prison and where, that being THE BEHAVIOR OF THE DEFENDANT.

The whole point of the article is to delegitimize incarceration -- indeed, to delegitimize the entire criminal justice system -- by portraying it as simply a tool of oppression rather than a response by law-abiding people to criminals and criminal behavior. That portrayal is fine as a tentacle of Marxism welded to Malcolm X, but is baloney -- and scurrilous baloney -- if we're talking about the United States in 2014.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 18, 2014 3:32:56 PM

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