× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.
Who's in Prison in America
The overwhelming answer: young black males. Why? Racial and economic biases which are integral to the U.S. prison system. At this time, one of four black men, aged 20-29 (23%) are subject to the criminal justice system. The figure is 6.2% for white males and 10.4% for Hispanic males. Nationwide, the imprisonment rate for African-Americans is nine times that of white Americans.
For young black men there is a clear interplay of racial and economic factors which contribute to their high rate of imprisonment. Low-income defendants are twice as likely to receive prison sentences as higher income defendants. For African-Americans, whose unemployment rate is twice that of white families, economic disenfranchisement puts young black males overwhelmingly in the category of low-income defendants.
At every stage of the criminal justice system - arrest, charges, prosecution, sentencing and parole - discretion on the part of the police, judges and prosecutors profoundly influences a defendant's fate within the criminal system. African-Americans are especially vulnerable to the random nature of discretion, particularly when it is inevitably informed by race bias so integral to our society.
So it is easy to believe that three of four people incarcerated in America were earning less than $10,000 a year at the time of their arrest. Most of these poor people were young black males. It also comes as no surprise that black prisoners serve 20% longer sentences than whites for similar crimes.
If time served by black prisoners were reduced to parity with whites, the federal system would require 3,000 fewer prison cells, enough to empty six of their newest 500-bed prisons.
Friends Committee Newsletter
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login