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July 30, 2005

New report on "Race and Incarceration in Delaware"

A new study entitled "Race and Incarceration in Delaware: A Preliminary Consideration" (available here) provides a sobering view of the scope of imprisonment and its racial dynamics in the First State.  This article provides a summary of the report, and here are some passages from the report's preface:

The United States has world’s highest incarceration rate. Delaware, the second smallest state, enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the highest incarceration rates of any of the 50 states in America. More important, the scales of justice in Delaware weigh far more heavily on African Americans than similarly situated Whites....

In Delaware, Blacks represent:

  • 20% of the general population;
  • 42% of those arrested for criminal offenses;
  • 64% of the prison population; and
  • 86.8% of those incarcerated for drug offenses.

This is not, as many assume, attributable to a higher incidence of criminal behavior among Blacks. The national data shows that Non-whites are statistically more likely to be imprisoned because they are more likely to be arrested than Whites.  Much of this appears to be attributable to the "war on drugs." Studies have consistently shown that Whites use drugs at rates comparable to Blacks, which makes them the vast majority of illicit drug users.  White drug dealers far outnumber Black dealers.  Yet, of those incarcerated for drug charges in Delaware, Blacks represent 86.8 percent of those sentenced to prison terms for drug offenses.

July 30, 2005 at 06:59 PM | Permalink


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I looked over the Delaware report, and while the racial disproportion of Delaware inmates is certainly troublesome, the primary explanation for it suggested in the report doesn't withstand examination. The report suggests that a major cause for the disproportion is disparate treatment of AFrican-American drug defendants -- the theory being that African-Americans commit drug offenses at a rate no different than whites, yet are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses at much higher rates than whites. Even assuming this to be true, it doesn't explain the racial makeup of Delaware prisons because, according to the report itself (see page 12), only about 15% of the Delaware prison population (1033 out of about 6300) is serving time for drugs. Whatever the full explanation for the racial composition of Delaware prisons may be, this report hasn't begun to identify it.

Frank Bowman

Posted by: Frank Bowman | Aug 1, 2005 11:12:18 AM

Thanks, Frank, for the substantive analysis of the report. I'm not sure if your insight is comforting or discomforting, though I am sure a lot more work should be done on all racial sentencing issues.

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 1, 2005 12:26:47 PM

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