Race and Incarceration

The statistics on race and incarceration in the United States present a disturbing picture of a criminal justice system that in which people of color are vastly overrepresented and face harsher penalties than their white peers.  According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in 3 black men and 1 in 6 Latino men is likely to spend time in prison in their lifetime, as compared to 1 in 17 white men. This racial disparity also exists for women–while 1 in 111 white women will spend time in prison, for Latina women this likelihood is increased to 1 in 45 and for black women 1 in 18.

The Prison Policy Initiative breaks down racial disparity by state, and shows that although black Americans make up 13% of the population, they account for 40% of the incarcerated population.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains monthly data on inmates in Federal prison, and as of July 2015, 37.6% were black.

This stark racial disparity in our prisons is the result of deeply rooted racial bias and public policy initiatives that triggered an explosion of the United States prison population. Policies related to the War on Drugs disproportionately impacted black Americans, despite the fact that rates of illicit drug use are fairly similar for black and white Americans. Black Americans receive longer sentences than white Americans who commit the same crimes, and are more likely to be sentenced to death in states that employ the death penalty.

The over-representation of blacks and Latinos in the criminal justice system and in our correctional facilities has a devastating impact on communities of color. Criminal records can impact the ability to secure public housing and other public assistance, and makes it extremely difficult to find work. Black and Latino Americans already have higher poverty rates than other Americans, making the additional barriers all the more significant. Incarceration also interrupts and harms the lives of those at home, including the 1.7 million minor children who have an incarcerated parent.