Fact Sheets
Featured Video
  • National Press Club Forum: A 25-Year Vision for Criminal Justice Reform
  • Unlocking Justice: Alternatives to Prison
State Contacts
February 27, 2013 (The New York Times)

Incarceration Rates for Blacks Dropped, Report Shows

Incarceration rates for African-Americans dropped sharply from 2000 to 2009, especially for women, while the rate of imprisonment for whites and Hispanics rose over the same decade, according to a report released Wednesday by The Sentencing Project.

The declining rates for African-Americans represent a significant shift in the racial makeup of America’s prisons and suggest that the disparities that have long characterized the prison population may be starting to diminish.

“It certainly marks a shift from what we’ve seen for several decades now,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, whose report was based on data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the Justice Department. “Normally, these things don’t change very dramatically over a one-decade period.”

The decline in incarceration rates was most striking for black women, dropping 30.7 percent over the ten-year period. In 2000, black women were imprisoned at six times the rate of white women; by 2009, they were 2.8 times more likely to be in prison. For black men, the rate decreased by 9.8 percent; in 2000 they were incarcerated at 7.7 times the rate of white men, but that disparity shrunk to 6.4 times the rate for white men by 2009.

For white men and women, however, incarceration rates increased over the same period, rising 47.1 percent for white women and 8.5 percent for white men. By the end of the decade, Hispanic men were slightly less likely to be in prison — a drop of 2.2 percent — but Hispanic women were imprisoned more frequently, an increase of 23.3 percent.

Mr. Mauer said that no single factor could explain the shifting percentages. But he cited as possible contributors changes in drug laws and sentencing patterns, decreasing arrest rates for blacks, the rising number of whites and Hispanics serving mandatory sentences for methamphetamine abuse, and socioeconomic shifts that have disproportionately affected white women.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Racial Disparity, Women