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 Pew Research Center.

Leave a Comment


All comments must follow the Pew Research comment policy and will be moderated before posting.


  1. www.ossStTaylor.com8 months ago

    This disturbing trend is alarming. The solutions, however, are within African-Americans as well as within the police force and within the Justice Dept. African-Americans have made significant changes in the US. Their contributions, both in the building of America through slavery and the continuing financial efforts/contributions to science, entertainment, education, sports, and popular culture is to be respected.

    A major positive change in the system should come about when more African Americans return to the universities to take on first, second, third degrees, which includes a Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD in order to take leading roles in decision making. Making the attempt to create positive relationships with the police and among our family members via public and private conduct/behavior is crucial.

    Being at the right place at the right will help. Dress code, politeness, proper social etiquette will add to a new face lift for African Americans to be respected. Male parents should endeavor to return to the family center in order to contribute to the decorum in raising black male teenagers.

    1. Ernestine Williams4 months ago

      We’ve got our work cut out for us.…
      The Pulitzer Prize winner who broke the story Gary Webb,“ committed suicide”.
      Was the CIA involved in drug trafficking? Yes
      Did CIA helped raise money for Contras? Yes

    2. Kathryn Williams4 months ago

      Actually, when we start filing law suits and winning them, and criminalize racism in the judicial system, you will see changes. Quite a few police, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys need to be jailed.

  2. John Lindsay10 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.”…

    1. months ago

      Good luck today for the U S Justice. The solutions are within. Doing the right thing, obeying the law, maintaining the presence of God in our lives, getting rid of all weapons, acknowledging the fact that the freedom in the US Constitution is not free will make us all, esp African Americans better off.

  3. Jake12 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?

  4. susan12 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?

    1. Tom Forsythe4 months ago

      The Southern Poverty Law Center, hardly a right-wing group, did a study which found that, if you control for illegitimacy, the incarceration rates for blacks and whites are the same.

      America is unique in the world in that it has both a high birthrate and a high out-of-wedlock birthrate. It is not uncommon to find women raising many children by different fathers; that is a recipe for disaster.

    2. Kathrn Williams4 months ago

      No. It could be systemic racism, socioeconomic racism, and the generational wealth is in the hands of slave owners descendents. In fact hemp was legal when only white people could afford it, and when African Americans began using it, it changed names to marijuana and became criminal. Now our prisons filled up, and whites are able to get rich legally off of marijuana. Same thing happened with cocaine. In fact in the new attack on sex traffiking , black prostitutes and pimps get hard time in prison, white girls are viewed as victims, white Johns who are buying these sex slaves go back home to their wives and suburbs, and Asian massage parlours continue in business with virtually no repercussions. We won’t talk about the differences of the way young black kids are treated verus white kids.

  5. Jon12 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 Baker12 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. Andy11 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.

        1. Mike8 months ago

          I guess that would make sense if African Americans were born with a lengthy rap sheet, but the fact of the matter is African Americans face discrimination in the form of disproportionately high discipline referrals at school, suspended three times more often than their white peers. Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment in the United States, yet they comprise 48% of out of school suspensions and expulsions. This trend persists through high school.

          African Americans are also referred to law enforcement or arrested in relation to incidents at school more than their white peers – and we already know from the study above that after high school they’re incarcerated at a significantly higher rate. I’m sorry, but our current system clearly discriminates against blacks, particularly black males, from a very early age and results in the disparities discussed above.

    2. months ago

      The mother figures are doing a good job In the black community. In a lot of instances, students and children whose fathers die young somehow manage to elevate themselves socio-economically via education. The point is that one can still retain some basic common sense, family values, cultural values, social norms and respect for the law without a father figure. The answer is to stop making the fathers too important. Please learn to respect and honor female leadership. Quit crying for fathers cos if they were responsible enough, they wouldn’t become rolling stones.