New research reveals that the American justice system continues to be a highly racist and discriminatory world, with Black men and women significantly more likely to be sentenced to time behind bars than whites.
CNN’s Christina Carrega reported on a new study by The Sentencing Project published on Oct. 13., which found that “Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans.”
“The report found that one in 81 Black adults per 100,000 people in the United States is serving time in a state prison, using data and projections from recent years from the U.S. Census, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and information provided directly from some states,” Carrega reported.
“Truly meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system cannot be accomplished without acknowledgment of its racist underpinnings,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst who worked on the study. “Immediate and focused attention on the causes and consequences of racial disparities is required in order to eliminate them.”
Among the “staggering disproportionalities” contained within The Sentencing Project report:
- The prison population in 12 U.S. states is more than half Black
- The incarceration rate for Latinx individuals is 1.3 times that of whites
- In Hawaii, the U.S. state with the best racial record on policing, Blacks are still more than twice as likely to end up in prison as whites
- In Wisconsin, the state with the worst racial incarceration rate in the country, one out of every 36 Black citizens in the state are in prison.
Carrega also reported that “a separate analysis from The Prison Policy Initiative gave the state a failing grade for overcrowding their adult correctional facilities during the pandemic, and a 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute found that half of the young Black men from Milwaukee County were in state prison.”
In the report, Nellis and her fellow researchers recommend a number of ways to reduce racial disparities in our current system. Those suggestions include “eliminating mandatory sentences for all crimes, requiring racial impact statements to calculate the impact of proposed crime legislation on different populations and repealing existing racially biased laws, and decriminalizing low-level drug offenses.”
According to The Sentencing Project report, researchers believe there are “three recurrent explanations” for the ongoing racial disparities in our prison system: “a painful and enduring legacy of racial subordination, biased policies and practices that create or exacerbate disparities, and structural disadvantages that perpetuate disparities.”
Nellis noted that “While chronic racial and ethnic disparity in imprisonment has been a known feature of the prison system for many decades, there has been little adjustment to policy or practices — inside or outside the justice system — to address these patterns directly.”
One positive finding from The Sentencing Project research: some states have begun to make significant progress and improvements within their prison systems, reducing their prison population by 30% or more in recent years. Those states include Alaska, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Alabama, Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii and California.