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June 10, 2016

"The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this notable data-heavy new report from The Sentencing Project.  Here is part of the reports "Overview" section:

Growing awareness of America’s failed experiment with mass incarceration has prompted changes at the state and federal level that aim to reduce the scale of imprisonment. Lawmakers and practitioners are proposing “smart on crime” approaches to public safety that favor alternatives to incarceration and reduce odds of recidivism.  As a result of strategic reforms across the criminal justice spectrum, combined with steadily declining crime rates since the mid-1990s, prison populations have begun to stabilize and even decline slightly after decades of unprecedented growth. In states such as New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and California, prison depopulation has been substantial, declining by 20-30%.  Still, America maintains its distinction as the world leader in its use of incarceration, including more than 1.3 million people held in state prisons around the country.

At the same time of productive bipartisan discussions about improving criminal justice policies and reducing prison populations, the U.S. continues to grapple with troubling racial tensions.  The focus of most recent concern lies in regular reports of police brutality against people of color, some of which have resulted in deaths of black men by law enforcement officers after little or no apparent provocation.

Truly meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system cannot be accomplished without acknowledgement of racial and ethnic disparities in the prison system, and focused attention on reduction of disparities. Since the majority of people in prison are sentenced at the state level rather than the federal level, it is critical to understand the variation in racial and ethnic composition across states, and the policies and the day-to-day practices that contribute to this variance.  Incarceration creates a host of collateral consequences that include restricted employment prospects, housing instability, family disruption, stigma, and disenfranchisement.  These consequences set individuals back by imposing new punishments after prison.  Collateral consequences are felt disproportionately by people of color, and because of concentrations of poverty and imprisonment in certain jurisdictions, it is now the case that entire communities experience these negative effects.  Evidence suggests that some individuals are incarcerated not solely because of their crime, but because of racially disparate policies, beliefs, and practices, rendering these collateral consequences all the more troubling.  An unwarranted level of incarceration that worsens racial disparities is problematic not only for the impacted group, but for society as whole, weakening the justice system’s potential and undermining perceptions of justice.

This report documents the rates of incarceration for whites, African Americans, and Hispanics, providing racial and ethnic composition as well as rates of disparity for each state.

June 10, 2016 at 02:01 PM | Permalink

Comments

Doug:

The misdirection in comparing incarceration rates by race/ethnicity to population counts by race/ethnicity has become a staple for the anti incarceration lobby.

As everyone, inclusive of the author knows, the primary factor in incarceration rates by race/ethnicity is the commission of crimes by race/ethnicity.

Fortunately, in Drivers of Disparity, pg 9, from the report, we have this:

"Alfred Blumstein’s work in this area examined racial differences in arrests and, after comparing these to prison demographics, determined that approximately 80% of prison disparity among state prisoners in 1979 was explained by differential offending by race, leaving 20% unexplained."

In other words, 80% of the time there is no prison "population disparity" by race/ethnicity, with 20% unexplained, which means just that.

While the author searches for "possible" reasons for the unexplained 20%, it seems rather simple - if there is a hugely disproportional violent crime rate within some minority communities, there must be a much higher rate of police presence in those communities, making it much more likely that there will be an "unexplained" higher rate of arrests/convictions for non violent crimes, inclusive of non violent drug arrests, than there will be in communities with much lower violent crime rates and much lower rates of police presence.

And of course it is circular. Where there is much more violence, there is usually higher drug use, with and without violence.

Maybe it's not that simple, but reason seems to lead one that way. All major police forces have computer based programs that keep track of criminal activity, which dictate where more or less police presence is needed. More police presence equals a higher likelihood for all arrests.

The unexplained, explained.

Please review, from another study:

Race, ethnicity and crime statistics.

For the White–Black comparisons, the Black level is 12.7 times greater than the White level for homicide, 15.6 times greater for robbery, 6.7 times greater for rape, and 4.5 times greater for aggravated assault.

For the Hispanic- White comparison, the Hispanic level is 4.0 times greater than the White level for homicide, 3.8 times greater for robbery, 2.8 times greater for rape, and 2.3 times greater for aggravated assault.

For the Hispanic–Black comparison, the Black level is 3.1 times greater than the Hispanic level for homicide, 4.1 times greater for robbery, 2.4 times greater for rape, and 1.9 times greater for aggravated assault.

From

REASSESSING TRENDS IN BLACK VIOLENT CRIME, 1980.2008: SORTING OUT THE "HISPANIC EFFECT" IN UNIFORM CRIME REPORTS ARRESTS, NATIONAL CRIME VICTIMIZATION SURVEY OFFENDER ESTIMATES, AND U.S. PRISONER COUNTS, See pages 208-209, FN 5, DARRELL STEFFENSMEIER, BEN FELDMEYER, CASEY T. HARRIS, JEFFERY T. ULMER, Criminology, Volume 49, Issue 1, Article first published online: 24 FEB 2011 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00222.x/pdf

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Jun 11, 2016 12:17:15 PM

My granddaughter got 30 first offence she is white but the other four were African American st Tammany parish three of the other boys were first time offender's and the oldest had prior arrest please let !e know if there is help out there we are located in Mandeville,La., 984 626-0236 Wanda Siverd. Thank You

Posted by: Wanda Siverd | Aug 3, 2016 3:00:26 PM

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