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

June 14, 2016
African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states. This report documents the rates of incarceration for whites, African Americans, and Hispanics in each state, identifies three contributors to racial and ethnic disparities in imprisonment, and provides recommendations for reform.

African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states. This report documents the rates of incarceration for whites, African Americans, and Hispanics in each state, identifies three contributors to racial and ethnic disparities in imprisonment, and provides recommendations for reform.


Table of Contents:

  1. Overview
  2. Overall Findings
  3. The Scale of Disparity
  4. Drivers of Disparity
  5. Recommendations for Reform
  6. Conclusion
  7. Appendix

Overview

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%.1)The Sentencing Project (2016). U.S. prison population trends, 1999-2014: Broad variation among states. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. Still, America maintains its distinction as the world leader2)Among countries with a population of at least 100,000 residents. in its use of incarceration, including more than 1.3 million people held in state prisons around the country.3)Carson, E. A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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.4)Neill, K. A., Yusuf, J., & Morris, J.C. (2014). Explaining dimensions of state-level punitiveness in the United States: The roles of social, economic, and cultural factors. Criminal Justice Policy Review 26(2):751-772. 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.5)Clear, T., Rose, D., & Ryder, J.  (2001). Incarceration and the community: The problem of removing and returning offenders. Crime and Delinquency 47(3): 335-351; Lynch, J. & Sabol, W. (2001). Prisoner reentry in perspective (Vol. 3, Crime Policy Report). Washington, DC: Urban Institute; National Research Council (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: exploring causes and consequences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 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.6)This report limits the presentation of data to these three categories because white, blacks, and Hispanics combined the vast majority of prisoners. This systematic look reveals the following:

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 of whites. Hispanic/white ethnic disparities are particularly high in states such as Massachusetts (4.3:1), Connecticut (3.9:1), Pennsylvania (3.3:1), and New York (3.1:1).

Overall Findings

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 35% of state prisoners are white, 38% are black, and 21% are Hispanic.7)Carson, E. A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Six percent of prisoners are composed of racial groups that fall under the category of “other.” In twelve states more than half of the prison population is African American. Though the reliability of data on ethnicity is not as strong as it is for race estimates, the Hispanic population in state prisons is as high as 61% in New Mexico and 42% in both Arizona and California. In an additional seven states, at least one in five inmates is Hispanic.8)Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Nevada, and Texas. While viewing percentages reveals a degree of disproportion for people of color when compared to the overall general population (where 62% are white, 13% are black, and 17% are Hispanic),9)U.S. Census (2015). Quick facts: United States. viewing the composition of prison populations from this perspective only tells some of the story. In this report we present the rates of racial and ethnic disparity, which allow a portrayal of the overrepresentation of people of color in the prison system accounting for population in the general community.10)Though this report focuses on rates of disparity, it is still informative to view the composition of prisons as percentages. We have provided two tables that contain this information in Appendix A, Tables 1 & 2. This shows odds of imprisonment for individuals in various racial and ethnic categories.

It is important to note at the outset that, given the absence or unreliability of ethnicity data in some states, the racial/ethnic disparities in those states may be understated. Since most Hispanics in those instances would be counted in the white prison population, the white rate of incarceration would therefore appear higher than is the case, and consequently the black/white and Hispanic/white ratios of disparity would be lower as well. In four states, data on ethnicity is not reported to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nor is it provided in the state department of corrections’ individual annual reports. These states are Alabama, Maryland, Montana, and Vermont. There are most assuredly people in prison in these states who are Hispanic, but since the state does not record this information, the exact number is unknown.

Figure 1. Average rate of incarceration by race and ethnicity, per 100,000 population
Data source: United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Prisoner Statistics, 1978-2014. Bibliographic Citation: ICPSR36281-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-10-09; U.S. Census Bureau (2013). 2013 Population Estimates. Annual estimates of resident population by sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States, states and counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.

Figure 1 provides a national view of the concentration of prisoners by race and ethnicity as a proportion of their representation in the state’s overall general population, or the rate per 100,000 residents. Looking at the average state rates of incarceration, we see that overall blacks are incarcerated at a rate of 1,408 per 100,000 while whites are incarcerated at a rate of 275 per 100,000. This means that blacks are incarcerated at a rate that is 5.1 times that of whites. This national look also shows that Hispanics are held in state prisons at an average rate of 378 per 100,000, producing a disparity ratio of 1.4:1 compared to whites.

The following tables present state rates of incarceration according to their rank. Table 1 shows how racial disparities play out at the state level.  The states with the highest rate of African American (male and female) incarceration are Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Vermont, Iowa, and Idaho.

Table 1. Incarceration rates per 100,000 by race, by black (male and female) incarceration rate
State White Black Hispanic
Oklahoma 580 2625 530
Wisconsin* 221 2542 563
Vermont* 225 2357 Not Provided
Iowa 211 2349 361
Idaho 458 2160 619
Arizona 444 2126 842
Oregon 366 2061 395
Montana 316 1985 Not Provided
Colorado 260 1891 587
Texas 457 1844 541
Pennsylvania 204 1810 668
California 201 1767 385
Louisiana 438 1740 34
Kansas 246 1734 301
Michigan 253 1682 93
Nebraska 201 1680 359
Arkansas 443 1665 251
Missouri 404 1654 232
Ohio 289 1625 334
Florida 448 1621 85
Indiana 339 1616 302
Nevada 387 1592 337
Illinois 174 1533 282
South Dakota 309 1493 480
Utah 202 1481 333
Alabama 425 1417 Not Provided
Kentucky 431 1411 183
State Average 275 1408 378
Connecticut* 148 1392 583
Virginia 280 1386 116
New Mexico 208 1326 422
Wyoming 375 1307 495
Washington 224 1272 272
Delaware* 259 1238 220
West Virginia 348 1234 167
Minnesota 111 1219 287
Tennessee 316 1166 180
New Jersey 94 1140 206
Georgia 329 1066 235
Alaska* 278 1053 148
Mississippi* 346 1052 207
New Hampshire 202 1040 398
South Carolina 238 1030 172
North Carolina 221 951 221
Rhode Island* 112 934 280
New York 112 896 351
North Dakota* 170 888 395
Maryland 185 862 Not Provided
Maine* 140 839 104
Massachusetts* 81 605 351
Hawaii* 246 585 75
Table 2. Rate of adult black male incarceration
State Rate of Adult Black Male Imprisonment
Vermont 1 in 14
Oklahoma 1 in 15
Iowa 1 in 17
Delaware 1 in 18
Connecticut 1 in 19
Arizona 1 in 19
Idaho 1 in 20
Pennsylvania 1 in 20
Louisiana 1 in 20
Wisconsin 1 in 20
Texas 1 in 20
Arkansas 1 in 21
Michigan 1 in 21
Oregon 1 in 21
Missouri 1 in 21
Indiana 1 in 22
Ohio 1 in 22
Florida 1 in 22
Nebraska 1 in 22
California 1 in 22
Rhode Island 1 in 22
Kansas 1 in 23
Colorado 1 in 23
Illinois 1 in 23
Alabama 1 in 25
Nevada 1 in 25
Montana 1 in 26
State Average 1 in 26
Kentucky 1 in 27
Virginia 1 in 27
Alaska 1 in 27
Utah 1 in 28
Minnesota 1 in 28
South Dakota 1 in 30
Tennessee 1 in 30
Mississippi 1 in 30
New Jersey 1 in 31
Georgia 1 in 33
Washington 1 in 34
South Carolina 1 in 34
West Virginia 1 in 36
Maine 1 in 37
New Mexico 1 in 37
North Carolina 1 in 37
Wyoming 1 in 38
New York 1 in 40
Maryland 1 in 41
New Hampshire 1 in 41
North Dakota 1 in 49
Massachusetts 1 in 54
Hawaii 1 in 61
United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Prisoner Statistics, 1978-2014. Bibliographic Citation: ICPSR36281-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-10-09; U.S. Census Bureau (2013). 2013 Population Estimates. Annual estimates of resident population by sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States, states and counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
* = Bureau of Justice statistics data augmented with state annual report data for this state. See Methodology section for additional information.
a = See footnote 13 for more information about Massachusetts.
Figure 2. Black/white incarceration ratios
Figure 2-Map Black White Disparity
Data Sources: United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Prisoner Statistics, 1978-2014. Bibliographic Citation: ICPSR36281-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-10-09; U.S. Census Bureau (2013). 2013 Population Estimates. Annual estimates of resident population by sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States, states and counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.

Breaking down these figures by age and gender reveals dramatic findings. In 11 states, at least 1 in 20 adult black males is in prison (see Table 2). Staggering on its own, these figures do not even include incarceration in federal prisons or jails, which would generally increase the number of people by approximately 50%. In Oklahoma, the state with the highest black incarceration rate, one in 29 African American adults is in prison, and this reduces to one in 15 when restricted to black males age 18 and older.

The map presented above (Figure 2 and Appendix Table C) provides the black/white differential in incarceration rates. Here we can see that in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Vermont, the rate of black imprisonment is more than 10 times that for whites. In an additional 11 states, the incarceration for African Americans is at least seven times the incarceration rate of whites. And 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.

Figure 3. Hispanic/white incarceration ratios
Figure 3- Map Hispanic White Disparity
Data Sources: United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Prisoner Statistics, 1978-2014. Bibliographic Citation: ICPSR36281-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-10-09; U.S. Census Bureau (2013). 2013 Population Estimates. Annual estimates of resident population by sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States, states and counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Data were not provided for Alabama, Maryland, Montana, and Vermont.

The map above (Figure 3 and Appendix Table D) shows the rate of Hispanic imprisonment in relation to the rate of white imprisonment, or the disparity ratio. The disparity between Hispanics and whites in Massachusetts tops the nation, with a ratio of 4.3:1. Following Massachusetts are Connecticut (3.9:1), Pennsylvania (3.3:1), and New York (3.1:1).

Appendix Table E shows that the rate of incarceration is highest in Arizona, where 842 per 100,000 Hispanic individuals are in prison. The next highest rate of Hispanic imprisonment is in Pennsylvania (668), followed by Idaho (619), Colorado (587), and Connecticut (583).

The Scale of Disparity

The particular drivers of disparity may be related to policy, offending, implicit bias, or some combination. Regardless of the causes, however, the simple fact of these disparities should be disturbing given the consequences for individuals and communities. One has to wonder whether there would have been more of an urgency to understand and remedy the disparity directly had the ratios been reversed. While chronic racial and ethnic disparity in imprisonment has been a known feature of the prison system for many decades,11)National Research Council (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. there has been relatively little serious consideration of adjustments that can be made—inside or outside the justice system—toward changing this pattern.

Racial disparities in incarceration can arise from a variety of circumstances. These might include a high rate of black incarceration, a low rate of white incarceration, or varying combinations. We note that the states with the highest ratio of disparity in imprisonment are generally those in the northeast or upper Midwest, while Southern states tend to have lower ratios. The low Southern ratios are generally produced as a result of high rates of incarceration for all racial groups. For example, Arkansas and Florida both have a black/white ratio of imprisonment considerably below the national average of 5.1:1 (3.8:1 and 3.6:1, respectively). Yet both states incarcerate African Americans at higher than average rates, 18% higher in Arkansas and 15% higher in Florida. But these rates are somewhat offset by the particularly high white rates, 61% higher than the national average in Arkansas and 63% higher in Florida.

Conversely, in the states with the highest degree of disparity, this is often produced by a higher than average black rate, but a relatively low white rate.12)This observation is documented elsewhere as well. See, for example, Blumstein, A. (1993). Racial disproportionality revisited. University of Colorado Law Review, 64: 743-760; Mauer, M. (1997). Intended and unintended consequences: State racial disparities imprisonment. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project; Bridges, G. & Crutchfield, R.D. (1982). Law, social standing and racial disparities in imprisonment, Social Forces, 66(3): 699-724. As seen in Table 3 below, seven of the ten states with the greatest racial disparity also have high black incarceration rates, while all have lower than average white rates. In New Jersey, for example, blacks are incarcerated at a rate twelve times higher than whites even though the black incarceration rate is 24% below the national average. This comes about through its particularly low incarceration of whites: 94 per 100,000, or one-third of the national average (275).

Table 3. States with the highest black/white differential
State White Black B:W
New Jersey 94 1140 12.2
Wisconsin* 221 2542 11.5
Iowa 211 2349 11.1
Minnesota 111 1219 11.0
Vermont* 225 2357 10.5
Connecticut* 148 1392 9.4
Pennsylvania 204 1810 8.9
Illinois 174 1533 8.8
California 201 1767 8.8
Nebraska 201 1680 8.4
State Average 275 1408 5.1
Data Sources: United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Prisoner Statistics, 1978-2014. Bibliographic Citation: ICPSR36281-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-10-09; U.S. Census Bureau (2013). 2013 Population Estimates. Annual estimates of resident population by sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States, states and counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
* = Bureau of Justice statistics data augmented with state annual report data for this state. See Methodology section for additional information.

The scale of racial disparity in incarceration can also be seen by comparing states that have lower than average black incarceration rates to those with higher than average white incarceration rates. Here we find that the states with the highest white incarceration rates (Oklahoma, Idaho, Texas, Florida, and Arizona) fall below the states with the lowest black rates (Hawaii, Massachusetts13)Data from Massachusetts in this report should be interpreted with caution. The system of incarceration in Massachusetts is somewhat unique in that this state uses county-level houses of corrections to hold some inmates who have been convicted of felonies and sentenced up to 2.5 years. The population of prisoners in houses of corrections is approximately 5,400, but the racial composition of those incarcerated at these institutions is not publicly reported. For this reason, estimates in this report do not include inmates in houses of corrections. As a result, the rates of incarceration by race and ethnicity are underestimated. For more on the composition of Massachusetts prison system, see: Massachusetts Department of Corrections (2014). Weekly Count Sheets., Maine, Maryland, and North Dakota).

Drivers of Disparity

Persistent racial disparities have long been a focus in criminological research and the presence of disparities is not disputed.14)Blumstein, A. (1993). Racial disproportionality of U.S. prison populations revisited. University of Colorado Law Review 64(3); 743-760; Bridges, G. and Crutchfield, R. D. (1988). Law, social standing and racial disparities in imprisonment. Social Forces 66(3): 699-724; Mauer, M. (1997) Intended and unintended consequences: State racial disparities in imprisonment. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project; Sorenson, J., Hope, R., & Stemen, D. (2003). Racial disproportionality in state prison admissions: Can regional variation be explained by differential arrest rates? Journal of Criminal Justice 31: 73-84; Mauer, M. & King, R. (2007). Uneven justice: State rates of incarceration by race and ethnicity. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project; Tonry, M. (1994). Racial Disproportions in US Prisons. British Journal of Criminology 34 (1): 97-115; Tonry, M (2011). Punishing race. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Proposed explanations for disparities range from variations in offending based on race to biased decisionmaking in the criminal justice system, and also include a range of individual level factors such as poverty, education outcomes, unemployment history, and criminal history.15)Garland, B., Spohn, C., and Wodahl, E. (2008). Racial disproportionality in the American prison population: Using the Blumstein method to address the critical race and justice issues of the 21st Century. Justice Policy Journal 5(2): 1-42. Research in this area finds a smaller amount of unwarranted disparity for serious crimes like homicide than for less serious crimes, especially drug crimes.

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. He noted that if there was no discrimination after arrest, the racial makeup of prisoners should approximate the population of arrestees. The greatest amount of unexplained disparity was found among drug offenses: nearly half of the racial disparity for prison among those convicted of drug crimes could not be explained by arrest. In a follow-up study, Blumstein found that the proportion of racial disparities found in prisons explained by arrests in 1991 had declined to 76%.16)Blumstein, A. (1993). Racial disproportionality of U.S. prison populations revisited. University of Colorado Law Review 64(3): 743-760. Subsequent studies have replicated this work with more recent data and found even higher amounts of unexplained disparities, particularly in the category of drug arrests.17)Baumer, E. (2010). Reassessing and redirecting research on race and sentencing. Draft manuscript prepared for Symposium on the Past and Future of Empirical Sentencing for Research, School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany; Tonry, M. (2011). Punishing race: An American dilemma continues. New York: Oxford University Press.

One issue raised by Blumstein’s approach is that the use of arrest records as a reflection of criminal involvement may be more accurate for serious offenses than less serious offenses. For less serious crimes, authorities may exercise greater discretion at the point of arrest.18)Blumstein, A. (1982). On the racial disproportionality of United States’ prison populations. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 73(2): 1259-1281.; Garland, B., Spohn, C., and Wodahl, E. (2008). Racial disproportionality in the American prison population: Using the Blumstein method to address the critical race and justice issues of the 21st Century. Justice Policy Journal 5(2): 1-42. Cassia Spohn’s research on sentencing reasons that for less serious crimes, judges might depart from the constraints of the law, allowing other factors to enter into their judgment. These factors might include forms of racial bias related to perceived racial threat.19)Crawford, C., Chiricos, T., & Kleck, G. (1998). Race, racial threat, and sentencing of habitual offenders. Criminology 36: 481-511; Spohn, C., & Cederblom, J. (1991). Race and disparities in sentencing: A test of the liberation hypothesis. Justice Quarterly, 8, 305-327. Despite the possibility of failing to account for all variance, research that relies on incident reporting (i.e., self-report data rather than police data) to circumvent these potential problems also reveals unexplained racial disparities. Patrick Langan’s work, for example, estimated unexplained disparity to be in the range of 15-16%, and though this is a smaller amount of unexplained variance (compared to that found by Blumstein, for example) it is likely due to the fact that his analysis did not include drug offenses.20)Langan, P (1985). Racism on trial: New evidence to explain the racial composition of prisons in the United States. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 76: 666-683; Garland, B., Spohn, C., and Wodahl, E. (2008). Racial disproportionality in the American prison population: Using the Blumstein method to address the critical race and justice issues of the 21st Century. Justice Policy Journal 5(2): 1-42.

Analyses of more recent data all come to similar conclusions: a sizable proportion of racial disparities in prison cannot be explained by criminal offending.21)Baumer, E. (2010). Reassessing and redirecting research on race and sentencing. Draft manuscript prepared for Symposium on the Past and Future of Empirical Sentencing for Research, School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany; Garland, B.E., Spohn, C. and Wodahl, E.J. (2008). Racial disproportionality in the American prison population: Using the Blumstein method to address the critical race and justice issue of the 21st Century. Justice Policy Journal 5(2): 1-42.; and Bridges, G. & Crutchfield, R.D. (1988). Law, social standing and racial disparities in imprisonment. Social Forces 66(3): 699-724; Tonry, M. and Melewski, M. (2008). “The malign effects of drug and crime control policy on Black Americans.” In Tonry, M. (ed.) Crime and Justice: A review of research (pp 1-44). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Some analyses have focused on single states22)For a review of a number of studies that have applied Blumstein’s formula to identify the amount of disproportionality that can be attributed to crime, as measured by arrest, see: Garland, B.E., Spohn, C. and Wodahl, E.J. (2008). Racial Disproportionality in the American Prison Population: Using the Blumstein Method to Address the Critical Race and Justice Issue of the 21st Century. Justice Policy Journal 5(2): 1-42. while others have looked at all states individually to note the range of disparity.23)Mauer, M. & King, R. (2007). Uneven justice: State rates of incarceration by race and ethnicity. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project; Bridges, G. & Crutchfield, R. D. (1988). Law, social standing, and racial disparities in imprisonment. Social Forces 66(3): 699-724. Studies that examine regional differences within states are also revealing. Researchers Gaylen Armstrong and Nancy Rodriguez, whose work centers on county-level differences in juvenile justice outcomes found that it is not solely individual-level characteristics that influence outcomes, but the composition of the community where the juvenile resides that makes a difference as well. Specifically, they conclude that “juvenile delinquents who live within areas that have high minority populations (more heterogeneous) will more often be detained, regardless of their individual race or ethnicity.”24)Armstrong, G. & Rodriguez, N. (2005). Effects of individual and contextual characteristics on preadjudication detention of juvenile delinquents. Justice Quarterly 22(4): 521-539. And finally, studies seeking to better understand the processes between arrest and imprisonment, particularly at the stage of sentencing, have been pursued in order to better understand the unexplained disparities in state prisons.25)Baumer, E. (2010). Reassessing and redirecting research on race and sentencing. Draft manuscript prepared for Symposium on the Past and Future of Empirical Sentencing for Research, School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany.

Causes of Disparity

The data in this report document pervasive racial disparities in state imprisonment, and make clear that despite greater awareness among the public of mass incarceration and some modest successes at decarceration, racial and ethnic disparities are still a substantial feature of our prison system.

Three recurrent explanations for racial disparities emerge from dozens of studies on the topic: policies and practices that drive disparity; the role of implicit bias and stereotypes in decisionmaking; and, structural disadvantages in communities of color which are associated with high rates of offending and arrest.

Policies and Practices

The criminal justice system is held together by policies and practices, both formal and informal, which influence the degree to which an individual penetrates the system. At multiple points in the system, race may play a role. Disparities mount as individuals progress through the system, from the initial point of arrest to the final point of imprisonment.26)Kutateladze, B., Andirilo, N., Johnson, B.D., & Spohn, C.C. (2014). Cumulative disadvantage: Examining racial and ethnic disparity in prosecution and sentencing. Criminology 52 (3): 514-551. Harsh punishment policies adopted in recent decades, some of which were put into effect even after the crime decline began, are the main cause of the historic rise in imprisonment that has occurred over the past 40 years.27)Frost, N., & Clear, T. (2013). The punishment imperative: The rise and failure of mass incarceration in America. New York: New York University Press.

The rise in incarceration that has come to be known as mass imprisonment began in 1973 and can be attributed to three major eras of policymaking, all of which had a disparate impact on people of color, especially African Americans. Until 1986, a series of policies was enacted to expand the use of imprisonment for a variety of felonies. After this point, the focus moved to greater levels of imprisonment for drug and sex offenses. There was a particularly sharp growth in state imprisonment for drug offenses between 1987 and 1991. In the final stage, beginning around 1995, the emphasis was on increasing both prison likelihood and significantly lengthening prison sentences.28)Zimring, F. (2010). The scale of imprisonment in the United States: Twentieth Century patterns and Twenty-First Century prospects. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 100(3): 1225-1241.

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)Rothwell, J. (2015). Drug offenders in American prisons: The critical difference between stock and flow. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. 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.30)Mauer, M. (2009). The changing racial dynamics of the war on drugs. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project.

Disparities are evident at the initial point of contact with police, especially through policies that target specific areas and/or people. A popular example of this is “stop, question, and frisk.” Broad discretion allowed to law enforcement can aggravate disparities. Though police stops alone are unlikely to result in a conviction that would lead to a prison sentence, the presence of a criminal record is associated with the decision to incarcerate for subsequent offenses, a sequence of events that disadvantages African Americans. Jeffrey Fagan’s work in this area found that police officers’ selection of who to stop in New York City’s high-profile policing program was dictated more by racial composition of the neighborhood than by actual crime in the area.31)Fagan, J. (2010). Second supplemental report, Floyd v The City of New York, 2013 U.S. District. LEXIS 68790 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). (08 Civ. 01034). The process of stopping, questioning and frisking individuals based on little more than suspicion (or on nebulous terms such as “furtive behavior,” which were the justification for many stops) has led to unnecessary criminal records for thousands. New York’s policy was ruled unconstitutional in 2013 with a court ruling in Floyd v. City of New York.

Other stages of the system contribute to the racial composition of state prisons as well. Factors such as pre-trial detention—more likely to be imposed on black defendants because of income inequality—contributes to disparities because those who are detained pre-trial are more likely to be convicted and sentenced to longer prison terms.32)Schnake, T., Jones, M., & Brooker, C. (2010). The history of bail and pretrial release. Washington, DC: Pretrial Justice Institute. Cassia Spohn’s analysis of 40 states’ sentencing processes finds that, though crime seriousness and prior record are key determinants at sentencing, the non-legal factors of race and ethnicity also influence sentencing decisions. She notes that “black and Hispanic offenders—particularly those who are young, male, and unemployed—are more likely than their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison than similarly situated white offenders. Other categories of racial minorities—those convicted of drug offenses, those who victimize whites, those who accumulate more serious prior criminal records, or those who refuse to plead guilty or are unable to secure pretrial release—also may be singled out for more punitive treatment.”33)Spohn, C. (2000). Thirty years of sentencing reform: The quest for a racially neutral sentencing process. In Policies, Processes, and Decisions of the Criminal Justice System, Volume 3, 427-501: page 481.

Still other research finds that prosecutorial charging decisions play out unequally when viewed by race, placing blacks at a disadvantage to whites. Prosecutors are more likely to charge black defendants under state habitual offender laws than similarly situated white defendants.34)Crawford, C., Chiricos, T., & Kleck, G. (1998). Race, racial threat, and sentencing of habitual offenders. Criminology 36(3): 481-511. Researchers in Florida found evidence for this relationship, and also observed that the relationship between race and use of the state habitual offender law was stronger for less serious crimes than it was for more serious crimes.35)Crawford, C., Chiricos, T., & Kleck, G. (1998). Race, racial threat, and sentencing of habitual offenders. Criminology 36(3): 481-511; Caravelis, C., Chricos, T., & Bales, W. (2013). Race, ethnicity, threat, and the designation of career offenders. Justice Quarterly 30(5): 869-894. California’s three strikes law has been accused of widening disparities because of the greater likelihood of prior convictions for African Americans.

Implicit Bias

The role of perceptions about people of different races or ethnicities is also influential in criminal justice outcomes. An abundance of research finds that beliefs about dangerousness and threats to public safety overlap with individual perceptions about people of color. There is evidence that racial prejudice exerts a large, negative impact on punishment preferences among whites but much less so for blacks.36)Bobo, L. & Johnson, D. (2004). A taste for punishment: Black and white Americans’ views on the death penalty and the war on drugs. DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race 1(1): 151-180; Unnever, J. D. & Cullen, F. T. (2010). The social sources of American’s punitveness: A test of three competing models. Criminology 48(1): 99-130. Other research finds that assumptions by key decision makers in the justice system influence outcomes in a biased manner. In research on presentence reports, for example, scholars have found that people of color are frequently given harsher sanctions because they are perceived as imposing a greater threat to public safety and are therefore deserving of greater social control and punishment.37)Bridges, G. & Steen, S. (1998). Racial disparities in official assessments of juvenile offenders: Attributional stereotypes as mediating mechanisms. American Sociological Review 63(4): 554-570. And survey data has found that, regardless of respondents’ race, respondents associated African Americans with terms such as “dangerous,” “aggressive,” “violent,” and “criminal.”38)Eberhardt, J.L., Goff, P.A., Purdie, V.J., & Davies, P.G. (2004). Seeing black: Race, crime, and visual processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(6): 876-893.

Media portrayals about crime have a tendency to distort crime by disproportionately focusing on news stories to those involving serious crimes and those committed by people of color, especially black-on-white violent crime.39)Lundman, R. J. (2003). The newsworthiness and selection bias in news about murder: Comparative and relative effects of novelty and race and gender typifications on newspaper coverage about homicide. Sociological Forum, 18(3): 357-386. Since three-quarters of the public say that they form their opinions about crime from the news,40)Dorfman, L & Schiraldi, V. (2001). Off balance: Youth, race, and crime in the news. Washington, DC: Building Blocks for Youth. this misrepresentation feeds directly into the public’s crime policy preferences.

Reforms to media reporting that more carefully and accurately represent the true incidence of specific crimes and their perpetrators, and victims, would change perceptions about crime, but in themselves would not necessarily impact how these perceptions translate into policy preferences. A 2013 study by Stanford University scholars found that public awareness of racial disparities in prisons actually increases support for harsher punishments.41)Hetey, R. C. & Eberhardt, J. L. (2014). Racial disparities in incarceration Increase acceptance of punitive policies. Psychological Science 25(10): 1949-1954. Using an experimental research design, researchers exposed subjects to facts about racial compositions. When prisons were described as “more black,” respondents were more supportive of harsh crime policies that contribute to those disparities. On the other hand, some find that when individuals—practitioners in particular—are made consciously aware of their bias through implicit bias training, diversification of the workforce, and education on the important differences between implicit and explicit bias, this can mitigate or even erase the actions they would otherwise take based on unexplored assumptions.42)Kang, J., Bennett, M., Carbado, D., Casey, P., Dasgupta, N., Faigman, D., Godsil, R., Greenwald, A., Levinson, J., & Mnookin, J. (2012). Implicit bias in the courtroom. UCLA Law Review 59: 1124:1186.

Structural Disadvantage

A third explanation for persistent racial disparities in state prisons lies in the structural disadvantages that impact people of color long before they encounter the criminal justice system. In this view, disparities observed in imprisonment are partially a function of disproportionate social factors in African American communities that are associated with poverty, employment, housing, and family differences.43)Bridges, G. & Crutchfield, R.D. (1988). Law, Social Standing and Racial Disparities in Imprisonment. Social Forces 66(3): 699-724. Other factors, not simply race, account for differences in crime across place. Criminologists Ruth Peterson and Lauren Krivo note that African Americans comprise a disproportionate share of those living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods and communities where a range of socio-economic vulnerabilities contribute to higher rates of crime, particularly violent crime.44)Krivo, L. & Peterson, R. (1996). Extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods and urban crime. Social Forces 75(2): 619-647. In fact, 62% of African Americans reside in highly segregated, inner city neighborhoods that experience a high degree of violent crime, while the majority of whites live in “highly advantaged” neighborhoods that experience little violent crime.45)Krivo, L., Peterson, R., & Kuhl, D. C. (2009). Segregation, racial structure, and neighborhood violent crime. American Journal of Sociology 114(6): 1765-1802. Their work builds on earlier research focused on the harms done to the African American community by disparate living environments, and extends this knowledge to evidence that this actually produces social problems including crime.

The impact of structural disadvantage begins early in life. When looking at juvenile crime, it is not necessarily the case that youth of color have a greater tendency to engage in delinquency, but that the uneven playing field from the start, a part of larger American society, creates inequalities which are related to who goes on to commit crime and who is equipped to desist from crime.46)Piquero, A. R., Moffitt, T., & Lawton, B. Race differences in life course persistent offending. In (Hawkins, D. and Kempf-Leonard, K., Eds). Our Children, Their Children. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 202-224. More specifically, as a result of structural differences by race and class, youth of color are more likely to experience unstable family systems, exposure to family and/or community violence, elevated rates of unemployment, and more school dropout.47)Hawkins, D., Laub, J., Lauritsen, J., & Cothern L. (2000). Race, ethnicity, and serious and violent juvenile offending. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.; Hsia, H., Bridges, G., and McHale, R. (2004). Disproportionate minority confinement: 2002 Update. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Nellis, A. (2016). A return to justice: Rethinking our approach to juveniles in the system. Lanham: Littlefield and Rowman. All of these factors are more likely to exist in communities of color and play a role in one’s proclivity toward crime.

Recommendations for Reform

Even though the pace of reform is relatively modest in addressing the scale of mass incarceration and the enduring racial and ethnic disparities, reforms being pursued in the states are encouraging. New Jersey provides an example of this potential. Despite its high ranking in disparity among sentenced prisoners, New Jersey has recently pursued a range of reforms that could lessen this disparity and accelerate progress. Like most states, New Jersey experienced a steady rise in incarceration from the 1970s through the 1990s. Since 2000, however, the state has reduced its prison population by 28%.48)Beck, A. J. & Harrison, P. M. (2000). Prisoners in 2000. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Carsen, E. A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Drug laws with disparate racial effects have been in place for many years in New Jersey, but in 2010 the legislature passed reforms through Assembly Bill 2762 to modify sentencing laws associated with drug-free school zone laws, reinstating judicial discretion. Passage of the law followed years of advocacy to implement change based on a report released by the Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing, which identified staggering racial disparities attributable to the state’s drug free school zone law.49)The New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing (2007). Supplemental report on New Jersey’s drug free zone crimes and proposal for reform. Trenton: The New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing. New Jersey has also adopted substantial reforms to its parole system, which at one point included a backlog of parole hearings for 5,800 prisoners. As a result of the parole commissioner’s modification of the parole process, the number of parole grants increased from 3,099 in 1999 to 10,897 in 2001.50)Greene, J. & Mauer, M. (2010). Downscaling prisons: Lessons from four states. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project.

Table 4. Change in prison population and composition, New Jersey 2000-2014
Year Prison Total White Black Hispanic
2000 29,784 5,665 (19%) 18,716 (63%) 5,279 (18%)
2014 21,590 4,750 (22%) 13,170 (61% 3,454 (16%)
Change -28% -16% -30% -35%

Table 4 shows that the prison decarceration reforms in New Jersey so far appear to have had the greatest impact on people of color.  The overall depopulation of New Jersey prisons has included a 30% reduction in African American prisoners, a 35% reduction in Hispanic prisoners, and a 16% reduction in white prisoners. With more time and continued focus on reforms, the racial disparities may continue to improve.

While remedies such as these will advance reforms to some extent, even reducing staggering racial and ethnic disparities, lawmakers and practitioners must also address the unevenness more directly. A few suggestions in this regard follow.

Most now agree that the war on drugs was not an effective approach to either addressing crime or addressing drug addiction, and that its policies worsened racial disparities in incarceration. Yet, many laws are still in effect at both the state and federal levels that sentence individuals to lengthy prison terms for drug offenses when alternatives to incarceration would be more suitable. Reforms should be enacted that scale back the use of prison for low-level drug crimes and instead redirect resources to prevention and drug intervention programming.

A host of mandatory minimum sentences and truth in sentencing provisions are still in place in most states. These remove judicial discretion from the sentencing process and tie up limited corrections resources by incarcerating those who may no longer be a threat to public safety. The states and federal government should revisit and revise mandatory minimum sentences and other determinate sentencing systems that deny an individualized approach.

A third reform is to scale back punishments for serious crimes, especially those that trigger long sentences for repeat offenders. While public safety is always a priority, imposing excessively long prison sentences for serious crime has been shown to have diminishing returns on public safety.51)Nagin, D. (2013). Deterrence in the 21st Century. In Tonry, M. (ed.) Crime and Justice in America 1975-2025. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 199-264. Furthermore, these policies have had a disproportionate impact on people of color, especially African Americans, because they are more likely to have a prior record, either because of more frequent engagement in crime or because of more frequent engagement with law enforcement.52)Mauer, M. (2011). Addressing racial disparities in incarceration. The Prison Journal 91 (87S-101S). Habitual offender policies are also problematic because of the documented ways in which they are favored for prosecutorial charging decisions.

As described above, prosecutors are more likely to charge African Americans under habitual offender laws compared to whites with similar offense histories. The impact is that African Americans are not only more likely to go to prison but are more likely to receive longer sentences.53)Nellis, A. (2013). Life goes on: The historic rise in life sentences in America. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. Today one in nine people in prison is serving a life sentence while many other countries’ use of life sentences is quite rare. Nearly half of lifers are black and one in six is Hispanic.

Fourth, adequate and regular training on the role of implicit, unchecked bias by key decisionmakers in the criminal justice system is a necessary step in reducing its impact. While open expression of negative views about people of color, as well as overt discrimination, has declined significantly in many areas of American society (largely attributable to successful civil rights laws and campaigns), some convincingly argue that this overt discrimination, especially against African Americans, has transformed into implicit bias, but with similar disparate results.54)Drakulich, K. (2015). The hidden roles of racial bias in support for policies related to inequality and crime. Punishment and Society 17(5): 541-574. Evidence suggests that when professionals are faced with a need to triage cases—a regular occurrence for law enforcement and defense counsel, for instance—implicit bias likely comes into play in deciding which cases to take as a sort of mental shorthand used to draw quick conclusions about people and their criminal tendencies.55)Richardson, L.S., & Phillip, A. G. (2013). Implicit racial bias in public defender triage, Yale Law Journal 122, 2626-2632.

To offset this, implicit bias trainings can make people aware of these temptations, and this awareness can minimize racially influenced trigger responses in the future.56)Pronin, E. & Kugler, M. (2007). Valuing thoughts, ignoring behavior: The introspection illusion as a source of bias blind spot. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43: 565-574. Additionally, instilling in practitioners a motivation to be fair and impartial can influence implicit bias, as could be accomplished through professional trainings on the topic of implicit social cognitions. Self-report data from California judges before and after they received a training on implicit bias, along with a three-month follow up survey to ascertain behavior modification that occurred as a result of the training, showed modest evidence of a positive effect on reducing implicit bias through trainings.57)Kang, J., Bennett, M., Carbado, D., Casey, P., Dasgupta, N., Faigman, D., Godsil, R., Greenwald, A., Levinson, J., & Mnookin, J. (2012). Implicit bias in the courtroom. UCLA Law Review 59: 1124:1186. Similar trainings can be provided to prospective and chosen jurors, who are also vulnerable to implicit bias.58)Kang, J., Bennett, M., Carbado, D., Casey, P., Dasgupta, N., Faigman, D., Godsil, R., Greenwald, A., Levinson, J., & Mnookin, J. (2012). Implicit bias in the courtroom. UCLA Law Review 59: 1124:1186.

Finally, several states are pursuing racial impact legislation, an idea that first became law in the state of Iowa in 2008. To date, Connecticut and Oregon have also passed racial impact laws and several additional states have introduced similar legislation. The idea behind racial impact laws is to consider the outcome of changes in the criminal code before passing laws in order to provide an opportunity for policymakers to consider alternative approaches that do not exacerbate disparities. Similar to fiscal impact statements or environmental impact statements, racial impact statements forecast the effect of bills on people of different races and ethnicities. There is a cost, both financial and moral, to maintaining racial and ethnic disparities.

Conclusion

Criminal justice reform has become a regular component of mainstream domestic policy discussions over the last several years. States grappling with budget constraints are successfully experimenting with diversion approaches that can reduce prison populations without harms to public safety. Allies have come together from both conservative and progressive campaigns to move policies forward that will ease bloated prison populations and reconsider punishments for low-level nonviolent offenses. It is difficult to miss the fact that the U.S. is experiencing a unique moment with the potential for a true turnaround of our system of mass incarceration. How long that moment will last is not known.

There is a growing recognition among policymakers that the system of mass incarceration now firmly in place has not been an effective remedy for crime and is not sustainable. Some jurisdictions have pursued reforms that include scaling back stop and frisk practices by law enforcement and enacting legislative changes that shift certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.59)Warren, P. Chiricos, T., and Bales, B. (2011). The imprisonment penalty for young black and Hispanic males: A crime specific analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 49(1): 56-80. These may reduce overall incarceration rates with the prospect of greater impact on racial and ethnic minorities as well.

At the same time, many states exhibit astounding rates of racial and ethnic disparity: Nationally, African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at five times the rate of whites. This report also shows that racial disparities vary broadly across the states, as high as 12.2:1, but even in Hawaii— the state with the lowest black/white disparity—African Americans are imprisoned more than two times the rate of whites.

When viewed over time it is evident that the racial dynamics of incarceration have improved, particularly when viewed through the lens of gender: between 2000 and 2009, imprisonment rates for black females dropped 31 percent from 205 per 100,000 to 142 per 100,000. The ratio of black/white imprisonment among women declined from 6.0:1 to 2.8:1 over this period. Yet part of this decline is explained through the higher rates of incarceration for white women. Between 2000 and 2009 incarceration for white women rose 47%, from 34 per 100,000 to 50 per 100,000.60)Mauer, M. (2013). The changing racial dynamics of women’s incarceration. Washington DC: The Sentencing Project.

Despite the positive developments in justice reform efforts described above, there is not enough attention to the chronic racial disparities that pervade state prisons, and without this acknowledgment the United States is unlikely to experience the serious, sustainable reforms that are needed to dismantle the current system of mass incarceration. Overall, the pace of criminal justice reform has been too slow as well as too modest in its goals. Accelerated reforms that deliberately incorporate the goal of racial justice will lead to a system that is both much smaller and more fair.

Methodology

This report relies primarily on two major sources of official data. The first is the U.S. Census, which counts the nation’s residents every ten years and provides estimates based on projections for years between its official counts. The data in the report comes from 2013 “American Fact Finder” estimates based on the 2010 Census. The second source of data used to generate the findings in this report is the U.S Bureau of Justice Statistics. Each year, it publishes results from its National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) survey of the state departments of corrections. The data used to generate the National Prisoners Series, most recently Prisoners in 2014¸ are housed on the National Criminal Justice Archive’s Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. Data on race and ethnicity of prisoners sentenced to at least one year in prison (NPS survey question: “On December 31, how many inmates under your jurisdiction — a. Had a total maximum sentence of more than 1 year [Include inmates with consecutive sentences that add to more than 1 year]). The Prisoners in 2014 publication reports state totals in Table 4. Additionally, each state provides to BJS the demographic composition of its prison population, though this is not typically reported in the National Prisoners Series. In the following states, data on race and ethnicity provided directly from state departments of corrections were used to augment the BJS data: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Vermont.61)Connecticut: Connecticut Department of Corrections (2014). Monthly statistics; Delaware: Email correspondence with Delaware Department of Corrections; Hawaii: Hawaii Department of Corrections (2013). Inmate population report, email correspondence with Hawaii Department of Corrections; Maine: Email correspondence with Maine Department of Corrections; Mississippi: Mississippi Department of Corrections (2014). Fact sheet; North Dakota: North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (2014). Performance based measurement system data, 2014; Massachusetts: Massachusetts Department of Correction (2015). Prison population trends 2014; Rhode Island: Rhode Island Department of Corrections (2014). Fiscal year 2013 annual population Report; Vermont: Vermont Department of Corrections (2015). FY2104 Facts and figures.

The rates of incarceration for racial and ethnic groups were calculated by dividing the total number of individuals in prison of a given race or ethnicity (Non-Hispanic whites, Non-Hispanic  blacks,  or Hispanic) by the total number of individuals in the population of that race or ethnicity and multiplying this figure by 100,000. To arrive at the state averages shown in Tables 1-3 and Appendix Tables C-E, the total number of prisoners across all states, disaggregated by race or ethnicity, was divided by the total number of individuals in the population of the same race or ethnicity, and then multiplied by 100,000.  Because the District of Columbia does not have a prison system (DC prisoners are held in federal prisons), data from this jurisdiction were not included in these calculations.

Appendix

Table A. State imprisonment 2014, by percent black in prison
State Sentenced Prisoners % Black in Prison % Black in Population
Maryland 20,733 72.0% 29.2%
Louisiana 38,022 67.8% 32.0%
Mississippi* 17,876 65.3% 37.1%
South Carolina 20,830 64.7% 27.4%
Georgia 52,485 62.0% 30.5%
New Jersey 21,590 60.5% 12.9%
Alabama 30,766 58.5% 26.3%
Delaware* 4,141 58.4% 21.1%
Illinois 48,278 58.0% 14.2%
Virginia 37,544 58.0% 19.0%
North Carolina 35,769 55.9% 21.3%
Michigan 43,359 53.6% 14.0%
New York 52,399 48.9% 14.6%
Pennsylvania 50,423 48.7% 10.6%
Florida 102,870 47.7% 15.5%
Ohio 51,519 44.6% 12.2%
Tennessee 28,769 44.1% 16.8%
Wisconsin* 21,404 42.7% 6.3%
Arkansas 17,819 42.5% 15.4%
Connecticut* 11,735 41.6% 9.7%
Missouri 31,938 36.2% 11.6%
Texas 158,589 35.9% 11.7%
Minnesota 10,637 34.1% 5.5%
Indiana 29,261 33.3% 9.2%
Kansas 9,365 31.4% 5.9%
Nevada 12,415 29.0% 8.1%
Rhode Island* 1,880 28.9% 5.5%
California 136,088 28.6% 5.7%
Massachusetts* 9,486 28.3% 6.6%
Oklahoma 27,261 27.3% 7.4%
Nebraska 5,347 26.9% 4.6%
Iowa 8,798 25.8% 3.1%
Kentucky 20,969 23.5% 8.0%
Colorado 20,646 18.7% 3.9%
Washington 18,052 17.9% 3.6%
Arizona 40,175 14.0% 4.0%
West Virginia 6,881 11.7% 3.5%
Vermont* 1,508 10.7% 1.1%
Alaska* 2,754 9.9% 3.5%
Oregon 15,060 9.4% 1.8%
New Mexico 6,860 7.3% 1.8%
Maine* 2,030 7.1% 1.3%
North Dakota* 1,603 6.9% 1.7%
Utah 7,024 6.3% 1.0%
South Dakota 3,605 6.2% 1.8%
New Hampshire 2,915 5.9% 1.2%
Wyoming 2,383 5.0% 1.6%
Hawaii* 3,663 4.7% 2.1%
Montana 3,699 2.9% 0.5%
Idaho 8,039 2.8% 0.7%
Table B. State imprisonment 2014, by percent Hispanic in prison
State Sentenced Prisoners % Hispanic in Prison % Hispanic in Population
New Mexico 6,860 60.6% 47.3%
Arizona 40,175 42.0% 30.3%
California 136,088 41.6% 38.4%
Texas 158,589 34.7% 38.4%
Colorado 20,646 31.5% 21.0%
Connecticut* 11,735 26.2% 14.7%
Massachusetts* 9,486 26.0% 10.5%
New York 52,399 24.2% 18.4%
Rhode Island* 1,880 21.3% 13.6%
Nevada 12,415 20.8% 27.5%
Utah 7,024 18.4% 13.4%
New Jersey 21,590 16.1% 18.9%
Idaho 8,039 14.6% 11.8%
Oregon 15,060 12.7% 12.3%
Washington 18,052 12.5% 11.9%
Nebraska 5,347 12.4% 9.9%
Illinois 48,278 12.4% 16.5%
Wyoming 2,383 11.7% 9.7%
Pennsylvania 50,423 10.7% 6.3%
Kansas 9,365 10.4% 11.2%
Wisconsin* 21,404 9.6% 6.3%
Minnesota 10,637 7.3% 5.0%
Oklahoma 27,261 7.2% 9.6%
Iowa 8,798 6.9% 5.5%
New Hampshire 2,915 5.7% 3.2%
North Carolina 35,769 5.4% 8.9%
North Dakota* 1,603 5.1% 2.9%
Indiana 29,261 4.4% 6.4%
Delaware* 4,141 4.3% 8.7%
Georgia 52,485 4.1% 9.2%
South Dakota 3,605 3.8% 3.4%
Florida 102,870 3.8% 23.6%
Arkansas 17,819 2.9% 6.9%
Hawaii* 3,663 2.8% 9.8%
Alaska* 2,754 2.6% 6.6%
Ohio 51,519 2.5% 3.4%
Virginia 37,544 2.2% 8.6%
South Carolina 20,830 2.1% 5.3%
Tennessee 28,769 2.0% 4.9%
Missouri 31,938 1.7% 3.9%
Kentucky 20,969 1.3% 3.3%
Mississippi* 17,876 1.0% 2.9%
Michigan 43,359 1.0% 4.7%
Maine* 2,030 1.0% 1.4%
West Virginia 6,881 0.6% 1.4%
Louisiana 38,022 0.2% 4.7%
Alabama 30,766 Not Provided 4.1%
Maryland 20,733 Not Provided 9.0%
Montana 3,699 Not Provided 3.3%
Vermont* 1,508 Not Provided 1.7%
Table C. Black/white incarceration ratios, by racial disparity
State White Black B:W
New Jersey 94 1140 12.2
Wisconsin* 221 2542 11.5
Iowa 211 2349 11.1
Minnesota 111 1219 11.0
Vermont* 225 2357 10.5
Connecticut* 148 1392 9.4
Pennsylvania 204 1810 8.9
Illinois 174 1533 8.8
California 201 1767 8.8
Nebraska 201 1680 8.4
Rhode Island* 112 934 8.3
New York 112 896 8.0
Massachusetts* 81 605 7.5
Utah 202 1481 7.3
Colorado 260 1891 7.3
Kansas 246 1734 7.0
Michigan 253 1682 6.6
New Mexico 208 1326 6.4
Montana 316 1985 6.3
Maine* 140 839 6.0
Washington 224 1272 5.7
Oregon 366 2061 5.6
Ohio 289 1625 5.6
North Dakota* 170 888 5.2
New Hampshire 202 1040 5.2
State Average 275 1408 5.1
Virginia 280 1386 5.0
South Dakota 309 1493 4.8
Arizona 444 2126 4.8
Delaware* 259 1238 4.8
Indiana 339 1616 4.8
Idaho 458 2160 4.7
Maryland 185 862 4.7
Oklahoma 580 2625 4.5
South Carolina 238 1030 4.3
North Carolina 221 951 4.3
Nevada 387 1592 4.1
Missouri 404 1654 4.1
Texas 457 1844 4.0
Louisiana 438 1740 4.0
Alaska* 278 1053 3.8
Arkansas 443 1665 3.8
Tennessee 316 1166 3.7
Florida 448 1621 3.6
West Virginia 348 1234 3.5
Wyoming 375 1307 3.5
Alabama 425 1417 3.3
Kentucky 431 1411 3.3
Georgia 329 1066 3.2
Mississippi* 346 1052 3.0
Hawaii* 246 585 2.4
Table D. Hispanic/white incarceration ratios, by ethnic disparity
State White Hispanic H:W
Massachusetts* 81 351 4.3
Connecticut* 148 583 3.9
Pennsylvania 204 668 3.3
New York 112 351 3.1
Minnesota 111 287 2.6
Wisconsin* 221 563 2.6
Rhode Island* 112 280 2.5
North Dakota* 170 395 2.3
Colorado 260 587 2.3
New Jersey 94 206 2.2
New Mexico 208 422 2.0
New Hampshire 202 398 2.0
California 201 385 1.9
Arizona 444 842 1.9
Nebraska 201 359 1.8
Iowa 211 361 1.7
Utah 202 333 1.6
Illinois 174 282 1.6
South Dakota 309 480 1.6
Idaho 458 619 1.4
State Average 275 378 1.4
Wyoming 375 495 1.3
Kansas 246 301 1.2
Washington 224 272 1.2
Texas 457 541 1.2
Ohio 289 334 1.2
Oregon 366 395 1.1
North Carolina 221 221 1.0
Oklahoma 580 530 0.9
Indiana 339 302 0.9
Nevada 387 337 0.9
Delaware* 259 220 0.9
Maine* 140 104 0.7
South Carolina 238 172 0.7
Georgia 329 235 0.7
Mississippi* 346 207 0.6
Missouri 404 232 0.6
Tennessee 316 180 0.6
Arkansas 443 251 0.6
Alaska* 278 148 0.5
West Virginia 348 167 0.5
Kentucky 431 183 0.4
Virginia 280 116 0.4
Michigan 253 93 0.4
Hawaii* 246 75 0.3
Florida 448 85 0.2
Louisiana 438 34 0.1
Alabama 425 Not Provided NA
Maryland 185 Not Provided NA
Montana 316 Not Provided NA
Vermont* 225 Not Provided NA
Table E. Incarceration rates, by Hispanic incarceration rate
State White Black Hispanic
Arizona 444 2126 842
Pennsylvania 204 1810 668
Idaho 458 2160 619
Colorado 260 1891 587
Connecticut* 148 1392 583
Wisconsin* 221 2542 563
Texas 457 1844 541
Oklahoma 580 2625 530
Wyoming 375 1307 495
South Dakota 309 1493 480
New Mexico 208 1326 422
New Hampshire 202 1040 398
Oregon 366 2061 395
North Dakota* 170 888 395
California 201 1767 385
State Average 275 1408 378
Iowa 211 2349 361
Nebraska 201 1680 359
New York 112 896 351
Massachusetts* 81 605 351
Nevada 387 1592 337
Ohio 289 1625 334
Utah 202 1481 333
Indiana 339 1616 302
Kansas 246 1734 301
Minnesota 111 1219 287
Illinois 174 1533 282
Rhode Island* 112 934 280
Washington 224 1272 272
Arkansas 443 1665 251
Georgia 329 1066 235
Mississippi* 346 1052 232
North Carolina 221 951 221
Delaware* 259 1238 220
Missouri 404 1654
New Jersey 94 1140 206
Kentucky 431 1411 183
Tennessee 316 1166 180
South Carolina 238 1030 172
West Virginia 348 1234 167
Alaska* 278 1053 148
Virginia 280 1386 116
Maine* 140 839 104
Michigan 253 1682 93
Florida 448 1621 85
Hawaii* 246 585 75
Louisiana 438 1740 34
Alabama 425 1417 Not Provided
Maryland 185 862 Not Provided
Montana 316 1985 Not Provided
Vermont* 225 2357 Not Provided
Data sources for Appendix Tables A-E: United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Prisoner Statistics, 1978-2014. Bibliographic Citation: ICPSR36281-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-10-09; U.S. Census Bureau (2013). 2013 Population Estimates. Annual estimates of resident population by sex, race, and Hispanic origin for the United States, states and counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
* = Bureau of Justice statistics data augmented with state annual report data for this state. See Methodology section for additional information.
 

Footnotes   [ + ]

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