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. Jake6 days 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?

  2. susan1 week 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?

  3. Jon2 weeks 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 Baker1 week 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.”