Race and Prison

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 2-28-12

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 2-28-12. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/3770

Question of the Week: How many people of color are under the control of the U.S. corrections system?

In its analysis of racial disparities in California, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice offered these stark contrasts,

“Compared to Non-blacks, California’s African-American population are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, 12 times more likely to be imprisoned for a marijuana felony arrest, and 3 times more likely to be imprisoned per marijuana possession arrest. Overall, these disparities accumulate to 10 times’ greater odds of an African-American being imprisoned for marijuana than other racial/ethnic groups.”

When minorities go to prison, they become caught up in a criminal justice web that includes, not only federal, state and local prisons, but also probation and parole. A new Drug War Facts table using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics attempts to provide accurate national estimates concerning their numbers.

From the table, of the 7.2 million individuals who found themselves in the criminal justice web in 2009, at least 3.6 million or about half belonged to a minority group. Blacks represented about one third, a percentage roughly three times their 12% portion of the U.S. population. The proportion of Hispanics/Latinos held steady over the past 20 years at about 16%. But, when it comes to prison, a consistent 60% of inmates – about 1.3 million – count themselves among those two minority groups.

As the Drug Policy Alliance lamented,

“Mass arrests and incarceration of people of color – largely due to drug law violations – have hobbled families and communities by stigmatizing and removing substantial numbers of men and women.”

These Facts, numbers and others like them can be found in the Race & Prison Chapter of Drug War Facts at www.drugwarfacts.org.