Since the early 1970s the prison and jail population in the United States has increased at an unprecedented rate. The more than 500% rise in the number of people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails has resulted in a total of 2.2 million people behind bars.
This growth has been accompanied by an increasingly disproportionate racial composition, with particularly high rates of incarceration for African Americans, who now constitute 900,000 of the total 2.2 million incarcerated population. The exponential increase in the use of incarceration has had modest success at best in producing public safety, while contributing to family disruption and the weakening of informal social controls in many African American communities. Overall, data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics document that one in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. The prevalence of imprisonment for women is considerably lower than for men, but many of the same racial disparities persist, with black women being more likely to be incarcerated than white women.
While the disproportionate rate of incarceration for African Americans has been well documented for some time, a significant development in the past decade has been the growing proportion of the Hispanic population entering prisons and jails. In 2005, Hispanics comprised 20% of the state and federal prison population, a rise of 43% since 1990. As a result of these trends, one of every six Hispanic males and one of every 45 Hispanic females born today can expect to go to prison in his or her lifetime. These rates are more than double those for non-Hispanic whites.
While these national figures are disturbing, they mask the extreme state-level variations in the impact of incarceration on communities of color. This report examines racial and ethnic dynamics of incarceration by state and highlights new information that extends the findings of previous analyses by including data on jail populations and the impact of incarceration on the Hispanic community.
To read the report, download the PDF below.