In June 2002 there were more non-Hispanic African-American males in state or federal prisons or local jails than there were non-Hispanic white or Hispanic males. Of a total of 1.9 million incarcerated males, 818,900 were non-Hispanic African-Americans, 630,700 were non-Hispanic whites, and 342,500 were Hispanics. The largest proportion of non-Hispanic African-American males in the prison population was between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-nine. The largest proportion of non-Hispanic white males was between the ages of thirty and thirty-four. The largest proportion of Hispanic males was between the ages of twenty and twenty-four. (See Table 8.5.)
In addition to a greater total number of non-Hispanic African-Americans males in federal or state prisons or local jails, the rate of incarceration for African-American males greatly outnumbers the proportions of non-Hispanic whites and Hispanic males. For every 100,000 African-American males in the United States in June 2002, there were 4,810 African-American male inmates. This proportion is much higher than that among non-Hispanic whites, with 649 inmates for every 100,000 residents in the same period. Among Hispanic men, there were 1,740 inmates for every 100,000 residents. (See Table 8.6.)
Unlike their male counterparts, non-Hispanic African-American women did not outnumber non-Hispanic white women in federal and state prisons or local jails in June 2002. There were 68,800 non-Hispanic white women incarcerated, compared to 65,600 non-Hispanic African-American women and 25,400 Hispanic women. The largest proportion of non-Hispanic white inmates was between the ages of thirty-five and thirty-nine. The largest proportion of non-Hispanic African-American and Hispanic women inmates was between the ages of thirty and thirty-four. (See Table 8.5.)
Yet the rate of incarceration for non-Hispanic African-American females is, like that for African-American males, higher than that of non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics in the nation's federal and state prisons or local jails. In June 2002 there were 349 African-American female inmates for every 100,000 persons in that demographic group. In comparison, there were only sixty-eight non-Hispanic white female inmates for every 100,000 persons. Among Hispanic women, there were 137 inmates per 100,000 persons. (See Table 8.6.)
The Parole System
Since African-Americans account for the largest proportion of prison and jail inmates, it is no surprise that African-Americans outnumber other racial and ethnic groups in the nation's parole system. The parole system grants inmates early release from prison with fewer rights than the general population and under monitored conditions.
In 2002, 42 percent of inmates paroled from state prisons were non-Hispanic African-Americans. Whites made up 39 percent of the parolees from state prisons, while Hispanics accounted for 18 percent of Americans on parole from state prisons. (See Table 8.7.)
The proportion of whites on parole from state prisons rose slightly between 1995 and 2002, from 34 to 39 percent. Conversely, the proportion of African-Americans on parole from state prisons decreased slightly between 1995 and 2002, from 45 to 42 percent. Among Hispanics, the proportion of people on parole from state prisons also decreased slightly between 1995 and 2002, from 21 to 18 percent. (See Table 8.7.)
Many more men than women are on parole. In 2002, 86 percent of state prison parole entries were men, compared to only 14 percent women. (See Table 8.7.)
African-American Men Arrested Disproportionately
The Sentencing Project, an organization that seeks alternatives to incarceration, has published several reports showing racial disparities in state imprisonment. An analysis of the Justice Department report on prison and jail inmates in 2001 found that one of every eight African-American men between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-five was either in
TABLE 8.7 Characteristics of adults on parole, 1995, 2000, and 2002
Status of supervision
Supervised out of state
Less than 1 year
1 year or more
Type of offense
Adults entering parole
Adults leaving parole
With new sentence
Note: For every characteristic there were persons of unknown status or type. Detail may not sum to total because of rounding.
—Less than 0.5%.
1Includes Native Hawaiians.
2In 1995 absconder and "other unsuccessful statuses" were reported among "other."
SOURCE: Lauren E. Glaze, "Table 7. Characteristics of Adults on Parole, 1995, 2000, and 2002," in Probation and Parole in the United States, 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, August 2003 [Online] http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ppus02.pdf [accessed May 13, 2004]
prison or in jail on any given day. It also pointed out that the high incarceration rate among African-American men and African-American women leads to another disturbing trend—one in every fourteen African-American children has a parent who is either in prison or in jail.
In addition, the Sentencing Project concluded that the high rate of incarceration among African-Americans will hurt the African-American community in other ways. The political influence of the African-American community suffers when African-Americans are incarcerated because
in twelve states those convicted of felonies lose their voting rights. According to the Sentencing Project, that amounts to roughly 13 percent of adult African-American males. Restrictions are also placed on such things as loans for higher education, access to welfare, and public housing for those with felony drug convictions.
In 1996 the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco conducted a study of California's prisons. The study found that, while African-American men made up only 7 percent of the state's population, they accounted for 32 percent of its prison population. Vincent Schiraldi, director of the center and author of the study, believed that the high number of African-American prisoners was due to tougher punishment for use of crack cocaine than for other drugs. He further cited additional causes: stricter sentencing laws, California's prison construction boom, poverty, the lack of good jobs, and poor education in inner cities. Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, attributed the disproportionate figures to the war on drugs, in which police had focused their efforts in the inner cities because the drug trade was often conducted openly by African-American men.
Schiraldi predicted that California's "three strikes" law (automatic life sentence for criminals convicted of three felonies and double the usual sentences for those convicted of a second serious offense) would likely further increase the disproportionate number of young African-American men in the state's prisons. He also stated that African-Americans are charged at seventeen times the rate of whites under the three strikes law.
Hispanic Youth and the Criminal Justice System
While much attention has been given to the fact that African-Americans are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, a report released in 2002 by Michigan State University's Institute for Children, Youth, and Families points to a growing number of Hispanic youths being targeted by law enforcement. The study, ¿Dónde Está la Justicia? A Call to Action on Behalf of the Latino and Latina Youth in the U.S Justice System, found that Hispanic youths are often treated more harshly than their white counterparts and suggests that the problem will only intensify since Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in the country.
Minorities on Death Row
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in Capital Punishment 2002 (Washington, DC, 2003), that 3,557 state and federal prisoners were incarcerated under sentence of death as of December 31, 2002. Whites made up 54.3 percent and African-Americans comprised 43.7 percent of all death-row prisoners. Only 2 percent were of other races, including twenty-seven Native Americans and thirty-three Asians. Of those whose ethnicity was known, 11.5 percent were Hispanic. (See Table 8.8.)
TABLE 8.8 Demographic characteristics of prisoners under sentence of death, 2002
Prisoners under sentence of death, 2002
Total number under sentence of death
All other races*
8th grade or less
High school graduate/GED
Note: Calculations are based on those cases for which data were reported.
Missing data by category were as follows:
*At year end 2001, other races consisted of 27 American Indians, 32 Asians, and 12 self-identified Hispanics. During 2002, 2 Asians and 1 American Indian were admitted; and 1 Asian and 1 American Indian were removed.
SOURCE: Thomas P. Bonczar and Tracy L. Snell, "Table 5. Demographic Characteristics of Prisoners under Sentence of Death, 2002," in "Capital Punishment 2002," Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, December 2003
Of those sentenced to death row in 2002, 52.2 percent were white, 45.9 percent were African-American, and 1.9 percent were other races, which included one Native American and two Asians. Hispanics made up 14.9 percent of those sentenced to death row in 2002. (See Table 8.8.)
In 1976 a ten-year moratorium on executions ended as a result of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The first execution that followed the moratorium occurred in 1977. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics report Capital Punishment 2002, between 1977 and 2002, 6,532 persons in state and federal prisons were under death sentences. Of these, 49 percent were white, 41 percent were African-American, 8 percent were Hispanic, and 2 percent were of other races. Figure 8.3 shows the increase in numbers of prisoners awaiting death, by race, between 1968 and 2002.
Capital Punishment 2002 also noted that from 1977 to 2002, 820 prisoners were executed. Approximately 57 percent were white; 34 percent were African-American; 7 percent were Hispanic; and 2 percent were of other races.
FIGURE 8.3 Persons under sentence of death, by race, 1968–2002 Number under sentence of death on December 31
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