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August 21, 2016

Some surprising racial realities to discover when taking a deep dive into modern mass incarceration data

U.S._incarceration_rates_1925_onwardsA couple of folks have pointed me to this recent interesting analysis at Wonkblog by Keith Humphreys under the headline "Black incarceration hasn’t been this low in a generation." Here are some of the data and discussion that explain the headline (with links from the original):

The African American imprisonment rate has been declining for many years. Indeed, the likelihood of African American men and women being in prison today is lower than it was a generation ago ... [because the] rate of black male incarceration in the U.S. has declined by 23 percent from a recent peak in 2001 [and the] rate of incarcerated black women has decreased 49 percent since the recent peak of 1999....

In the 1990s, the explosive growth in imprisonment that began in the mid-1970s was slowing but still underway, affecting people of all races but African Americans worst of all.  But around the turn of the millennium, the African American imprisonment rate began declining year after year....

At the end of 2014, the African American male imprisonment rate had dropped to a level not seen since early 1993. The change for African American women is even more marked, with the 2014 imprisonment rate being the lowest point in the quarter-century of data available. It can’t be overemphasized that these are trends unique to blacks rather than being part of a broader pattern of de-incarceration: The white imprisonment rate has been rising rather than falling.

A 23 percent decline in the black male imprisonment rate and a 49 percent decline in the black female imprisonment rate would seem to warrant some serious attention. But if you point out to the average person or even a seasoned criminologist that the United States is at a more than 20-year low in the black incarceration rate, you are likely to be met with stunned silence.

These data should not be all that surprising for those who realize that the years from 1970 to 2000 marked the modern period with the most significant increase in incarceration rates for all Americans and particularly for African Americans.  Since 2000, the overall US prison population has not grown much, and overall prison populations and the rate of incarceration has even turned downward in recent years.  I believe that, during this more recent period of flat or declining prison growth, the emphasis in long prison terms less for drug offenders than for violent/sexual offenders has contributing to altering the racial mix of prison populations (perhaps epsecially in big states like California and Texas that have made big cuts in their prison populations).

That all said, these data should not obscure the reality that incarceration rates for black males remain extraordinarily high both in absolute and in relative terms throughout the United States.  Moreover, digging into state-by-state incarceration data highlights that some perhaps unexpected states rise to the top of an accounting of the rate and relative levels of minority incarceration.  A few months ago (as noted here), The Sentencing Project released this interesting report providing state-by-state analyses of the racial data for state prison populations, and here were some of the report's "Key Findings":

August 21, 2016 at 03:37 PM | Permalink

Comments

Thanks for the interesting information. Out of curiosity, why do you think there is so little discussion of the gender disparity in imprisonment? Looking at federal BOP data only, men represent 93% of the federal prison population. I am sure the percentage would be very similar in the states. Yet, according to the most recent census there are more females than males in the United States. We hear about the race issue all of the time, why not gender? Especially given that the gender disparity is much more pronounced than any racial disparity. If we demand (as some appear to do) that the racial prison population percentages reflect overall racial population percentages, why don't we demand the same for gender?

Posted by: Interesting | Aug 22, 2016 6:05:32 AM

Possiblt, the author overlooked the "Hispanic Effect"

Please, fully review:

Race, ethnicity and crime statistics.

"Recent studies suggest a decline in the relative Black effect on violent crime in recent decades and interpret this decline as resulting from greater upward mobility among African Americans during the past several decades."

"However, other assessments of racial stratification in American society suggest at least as much durability as change in Black social mobility since the 1980s."

When correcting for the Hispanic effect:

"Results suggest that little overall change has occurred in the Black share of violent offending in both UCR and NCVS estimates during the last 30 years."

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 | Aug 22, 2016 10:50:11 AM

I think his stats may stand up, regardless of the Hispanic Effect.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Aug 22, 2016 11:00:26 AM

I look at the five states cited as having the worst disparity, two are small states and four of the five have minority populations well below the national average. I wonder to what degree those facts contribute to the disparity.

Posted by: tmm | Aug 22, 2016 1:32:39 PM

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