African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate 5.1 times higher than the imprisonment of whites, says The Sentencing Project in a new analysis of data. In five states, the disparity is more than 10 to 1: Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin. In twelve states, more than half of 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 percent African American, is the nation’s highest. Among other findings: In eleven states, at least 1 in 20 adult black males is in prison.
Ashley Nellis, author of “A Return to Justice: Rethinking Our Approach to Juveniles in the System,” speaks with TCR Contributing Editor David J. Krajicek about the “fear-driven” policies that extended America’s lock-’em-up fervor to include vast numbers of juveniles who were disproportionately black.
Population data just released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) show a continued modest decline in the number of people supervised in U.S. correctional systems, averaging a 1 percent decrease annually from 2007 to 2014. This reduction is somewhat greater than the decline in the prison population for this period, and in large part it reflects changes in the number of people under probation supervision. While in recent years there has been an increasing focus on challenging mass incarceration, less attention has been devoted to examining corrections populations overall. The new BJS report underscores the importance of adding this dimension to a reform strategy. The overall decline in corrections populations is encouraging but, as with the prison population figures, it's clear that the national trends remain quite modest.
A new report by The Sentencing Project highlights four features of the nation's justice system that exacerbate the system's underlying racial inequality, and reform taken in jurisdictions around the country that have addressed these disparities. The report points to “race-neutral” policies that exacerbate racial inequality; racial bias in the use of discretion; practices that disadvantage low-income individuals, and policies, such as collateral consequences for those with criminal records, which exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities. “The criminal justice system's high volume of contact with people of color is a major cause of African Americans' disproportionate rate of fatal police encounters, as well as of broader perceptions of injustice in many communities,” the report's authors write. The report also points to jurisdictions around the country that have taken effective steps to mitigate racial inequalities in the justice system. Among the examples in the report: Indiana amended sentencing laws tied to “drug-free zones,” which imposed harsh penalties on communities in Indianapolis that are more than 75 percent African American; Multnomah County, Ore., revised its juvenile detention risk assessment instrument to remove bias; Berks County, Pa., reduced the number of youth in secure detention by 67 percent, and the Milwaukee County prosecutor's office instituted case oversight that emphasized judicial diversion for those facing drug possession charges.
Breaking a four-year trend, the nation’s prison population rose again last year, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics said today. The news disappointed advocates of reducing “mass incarceration” in the U.S., who had expressed hope that after rising relentlessly for three decades, the inmate count had started an equally consistent downward slide. The new data dashed this hope, at least for now. The national total rose by 4,300 in 2013 to 1,574,700. Prisoner numbers went up in 27 states, an indication that tough sentencing continues in the courts even in an era of lower crime rates.
With voter suppression a hot-button issue of Election 2012, a coalition of civil rights advocates and prison reformers is stepping up its campaign to restore voting rights to almost 6 million ex-offenders.