The Sentencing Project’s study, The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons, lays out a bleak glimpse into the consequences of being black, especially a black man, in America. The report compared the rates of incarceration for whites, Hispanics and blacks. What the report found was an astronomical incarceration rate for black men that dwarfed all other demographics.
Here are the report’s key findings:
- African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. In five states (Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin), the disparity is more than 10 to 1.
- In twelve states, more than half of the prison population is black: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Maryland, whose prison population is 72% African American, tops the nation.
- In eleven states, at least 1 in 20 adult black males is in prison.
- In Oklahoma, the state with the highest overall black incarceration rate, 1 in 15 black males ages 18 and older is in prison.
- States exhibit substantial variation in the range of racial disparity, from a black/white ratio of 12.2:1 in New Jersey to 2.4:1 in Hawaii. • Latinos are imprisoned at a rate that is 1.4 times the rate.
Keep in mind that these numbers don’t reflect the number of black men who are currently in federal prisons. The report also found that “even in the state with the lowest racial disparity, Hawaii, the odds of imprisonment for blacks are more than twice as high as for whites.”
In 12 States, More Than Half the Prison Population is Black
It is impossible to reach this level of incarceration for black males without actively targeting this demographic and making criminal actions which are not normally criminalized, such as resisting arrest while not engaged in a criminal act. Or treating the smoking of a marijuana plant like a serious crime.
The report cites perceptions of blacks as well as drug laws for the disparities.
“Harsh drug laws are clearly an important factor in the persistent racial and ethnic disparities observed in state prisons. For drug crimes disparities are especially severe, due largely to the fact that blacks are nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested for drug offenses and 2.5 times as likely to be arrested for drug possession.29 This is despite the evidence that whites and blacks use drugs at roughly the same rate. From 1995 to 2005, African Americans comprised approximately 13 percent of drug users but 36% of drug arrests and 46% of those convicted for drug offenses.”