Devastating Racial Disparities in Incarceration

Slate's blog on legal issues.
April 24 2008 5:45 PM

Devastating Racial Disparities in Incarceration

Thanks to Marty and Phil for highlighting the recent NYT report that the U.S. incarcerates more of its people-and for longer periods-than any other nation, bar none.  I was disappointed, though, that the story did not discuss the devastatingly disproportionate rates of imprisonment of racial minorities. 

The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 32 percent of African American males can expect to be imprisoned during their lifetimes, compared to 5.9 percent of White males.  The explanation is complicated, and much relates to how we treat drugs:  the crack/cocaine disparity and beyond that, the fact that African Americans face disproportionately higher rates of arrest, prosecution, and conviction and disproportionately longer sentences.  And those disparities, of course, translate to amazingly high rates of African Americans who subsequently are prohibited from voting, unable to find jobs, ineligible for student loans     . . . the ramifications go on and on and on. 

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