What You Must Know About Systemic Racism – Part 9: Black prisoners are over represented

Source: Business Insider

Photo by Silver Works from Pexels

Black prisoners are over represented in the US prison population compared to their share of the total US population.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Black Americans are overrepresented in the country’s incarcerated population. In 2018, Black inmates made up roughly 33% of the country’s prison population — yet just 12% of the US’s total population. White inmates, meanwhile, made up 30% of the prison population and 60% of the country’s total population.

FBI arrest data show that Black Americans also make up the majority of suspects arrested and charged with violent crimes such as murder and robbery, which generally carry lengthy sentences. But criminal-justice reform advocates have argued that even taking crime rates into account, Blacks Americans still experience unequal treatment in the justice system compared to their white counterparts.

For instance, Black Americans are much more likely to get arrested on drug charges than white Americans, even though usage rates are comparable. Once arrested, Black defendants are more likely than white defendants to be denied bail, and more likely to receive harsher charges and sentences than white defendants who committed the same offenses, according to The Sentencing Project.

Black men are roughly five times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts — and nearly 13 times as likely in the 18-19 age group.

The most recent numbers available on imprisonment rates come from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ analysis of 2018 data, which showed that Black men aged 18-19 were 12.7 times as likely to be imprisoned as their white peers, and Black men of all ages were roughly 5.8 times more likely to be imprisoned than white men.

Pew Research Center analysis of the data showed that the Black imprisonment rate has actually dropped by 34% since 2006 — the greatest decline across all races.

Yet even still, Black Americans — and particularly Black men — remain more likely than any other group to be imprisoned. For every 100,000 Black men there are 2,272 inmates, whereas for every 100,000 white men there are just 392 inmates.

According to the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, marijuana usage between Black and white Americans is similar. Just 18% of Black people over the age of 12 in 2018 reported using marijuana within the past year, while 17% of white people over the age of 12 reported the same.

But the usage rate is where the similarities end — that same year, Black Americans were arrested 3.6 times more often than white Americans for marijuana possession, according to an American Civil Liberties Union analysis of FBI and US Census data.

The racial disparity in marijuana arrests has actually gotten worse in recent years, even though more states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

According to the ACLU’s analysis of marijuana arrest data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, racial disparities in marijuana arrests have continued in every state.

Despite widespread reforms to state marijuana policies, the racial disparity has even gotten worse over the years, not better. For instance, in 2010, Black people were 3.31 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, and over the years the rate ticked up to 3.64 in 2018.

The marijuana arrests that continue to the present day have disproportionately “caused profound and far-reaching harm on the people arrested, convicted, and/or incarcerated for marijuana offenses,” the ACLU wrote. “It has been a colossal waste of money and law enforcement resources that has only deepened the divide between communities and their governments and increased public hurt rather than safety.”

Black people are overwhelmingly more likely than white people to be under parole supervision — and they’re more likely to be sent back to prison for minor infractions.

Research from Columbia University’s Justice Lab has shown that Black people are far more likely than white people to be under parole supervision. Though the federal prison system has largely abolished parole, most states still retain the practice of releasing some inmates from prison sentences early in exchange for heavy supervision while they try to get back on their feet.

New York state has a particularly extreme racial disparity when it comes to parole supervision. Black people are 6.77 times more likely to be under parole supervision than white people, the Justice Lab found. They are also 4.99 times more likely than white people to be re-incarcerated due to “technical” parole violations, meaning that they had parole revoked due to minor infractions such as missing an appointment, rather than committing a new crime.

A Justice Lab report said parole supervision has also had an unequal effect on Black people — even though some of the supervision requirements may seem neutral or sensible, they may be far harder for people in Black communities to abide by through no fault of their own.

For instance, one common parole requirement is for parolees to stay away from people who have felony convictions. Yet an estimated one-third of Black men have felony convictions. That means parolees could be ordered to stay away from friends, family members, and neighbors.

“People on parole … may be forced to choose between obeying the rules on one hand, or, on the other, risking a parole violation by spending time with relatives and friends who could be valuable sources of support, stability, housing, or employment connections,” the Justice Lab report said.