September 6, 2013

Incarceration gap widens between whites and blacks


Black men were more than six times as likely as white men in 2010 to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails.

During last month’s 50th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, much attention was focused on the range of areas where gaps between whites and blacks had widened, narrowed or stayed the same.

One area where the black-white gap has widened is incarceration. Several speakers at the anniversary took note of this, including former President Jimmy Carter who said “I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted” to the large numbers of African-American men in prison.

DN_Blacks_JailsBlack men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails in 2010, the last year complete data are available, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. That is an increase from 1960, when black men were five times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

In 2010, the incarceration rate for white men under local, state and federal jurisdiction was 678 inmates per 100,000 white U.S. residents; for black men, it was 4,347. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated in 2010.

In 1960, the white male incarceration rate was 262 per 100,000 white U.S. residents, and the black male rate was 1,313, meaning that black men were five times as likely as white men to be incarcerated.

Note: The comparisons in this post regarding gaps between blacks and whites were made in the context of the anniversary of the Martin Luther King speech and reflected conditions in 1960 compared to now. While the gap between blacks and whites on this measure is larger than it was in 1960, it should be noted that black incarceration rates rose significantly during the 1990s and have declined since then to the levels cited here.

Category: Daily Number

Topics: Criminal Justice, Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of Bruce Drake

    is a Senior Editor at the Pew Research Center.

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  1. John Lindsay2 months ago

    Feb 2004:

    “Earlier this week, The Miami Herald ran a jaw-dropping series called ‘Justice Withheld.’ It detailed the abuse of a legal procedure called a withholding of adjudication. This is a tool Florida judges can use at their discretion that allows felony offenders to avoid a conviction.

    Receiving a withhold allows you to legally say you’ve never been convicted of a crime, even though a court found you guilty. There are many benefits: You retain your right to vote and hold office and you don’t have to put the crime on your application for a job or a student loan.

    Four-time losers get withholds. Rapists and car thieves get withholds. Drug dealers and batterers get withholds.

    If you commit fraud or forgery, you’ve got an even chance of getting one. Abuse or molest a child and your chances are actually better than even.

    All those folks enjoying all that judicial mercy. Guess who gets left out?

    Yup. You.(African Americans and other People of Color)

    Even if you commit the same crime and have the same record, a white offender is almost 50 percent more likely to get a withhold than you are.”…

    JL: This occurs NOT only in Florida, but in damn near every state in the nation.
    Hence, Jake is WRONG about Blacks committing a disproportionate amount of crime.

    In fact, White males commit 70% of the violence in the U.S….but….rarely do they go to prison or jail; most likely to receive community service, probation, allowed to make an Alford Plea, or get a withhold of adjudication.

    White-on-White crime, whether, blue-, pink-, or white-collared is the largest number of crime in the U.S.

    “Nearly 70% of the devastating violence we experience in our communities is committed by white men and nearly 50% of that is committed by young white men between the ages of fifteen and thirty.

    What kind of violence am I referring to? Take your pick. Domestic violence, rape, acquaintance rape, incest, male on male fights, serial killings, racist hate crimes, gay-bashing, arson, campus riots such as recently occurred at Michigan State University, and barroom brawls.

    Estimates are that 95% of all violence in our society is committed by males, and although women, men of color, and white men of all ages certainly can be violent, the overwhelming majority of acts of violence can be traced to young white men.”…

  2. Jake3 months ago

    Where’s the imprisonment by crime rate by race report? How are we to know the disproportionately high imprisonment isn’t simply a disproportionately higher crime rate?

  3. susan4 months ago

    Could the root of the problem be that young black men and women do not have a father figure in the home to lead and rear them up to be productive?

  4. Jon4 months ago

    What is the intent of this article? This may be my fault but typically when I see the word gap used like this, it usually means it’s a gap people should focus on closing.

    1. Jesse Baker4 months ago

      The intent is obviously to support the opinion that U.S. criminal justice policy is racist and should be put under pressure to change. However, Pew itself stays out of the policy arena and its data are good. It really is true that blacks are more likely to go to prison. Part of the reason is that they’re more likely to commit crimes, but part of it is that they get punished more severely if caught. The differential sentencing for crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine, even though both are forms of the same drug, in an example. Blacks do more crack, whites favor powder. Yet oddly, it was the black Congressional caucus who pushed for this law in 1986, over concerns for “taking back the streets and stopping the cycle of addiction.”

      1. Andy3 months ago

        When blacks appear to get harsher sentences than whites for the same crime might it not be because of having a lengthy rap-sheet? That should indeed be considered in sentencing regardless of race.