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The Justice Policy Institute

National Center on Institutions and Alternatives/Justice Policy Institute
Embargoed for Release: August 13, 2001 (Monday Print, Sunday Electronic)
For More Information, contact: Laura Jones (202) 737-7270, ext. 254

Color of the Keystone: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Use of Incarceration in Pennsylvania.1

Two centuries ago, during the American Revolution, Pennsylvania led the nation in the designing one of America's first modern prisons. The Walnut Street Prison, in Philadelphia, originally housed opponents to the revolution, but was reconstituted by reformers to be the first institution in the nation with cellblocks specifically designed to house long-term inmates. The first corrections reformers who built the prison believed that a clean, well-run institution, staffed by people that cared for inmates and their future might rehabilitate people that broke some law.2 Today, far from leading the nation in humane, effective ways of rehabilitation and treatment, Pennsylvania leads the nation in having the greatest racial disparity in the state's varied uses of incarceration. Recent studies have shown that:

Impact on Pennsylvania Communities: Union County, PA-97% of Young African Americans in Prison.

As the Keystone states urban minority population continues to be taken out of the cities and incarcerated in rural prisons, the new census figures reveal the way in which incarceration policies are reshaping the racial and ethnic demography of the region.

In Union County, Pennsylvania's three federal prisons contain 3,656 of the county's 33,258 adult citizens--just over 10% of the county's total population. In a community where ethnic and racial minorities make up only 14% of population, the three prisons have radically reshaped the ethnic, racial and social demography of the region:

Far from their more well-intentioned roots, the enlightened impulses that led Pennsylvanians to pioneer the nation's first prisons in the 1790s have been supplanted by a prison building spree whose impact is destructive and racially disparate.


  1. This study was jointly authored by Barry Holman, Director of Public Policy, the National Center for Institutional Alternatives, Alan Knowlton Boal, at NCIA, and Jason Ziedenberg, Senior Policy Analyst, the Justice Policy Institute, and will be presented at the Coalition Against the American Correctional Association counter-conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For more information about the authors, see, and
  2. For more details of this period in Philadelphia's penal history, see The Prison At Philadelphia Cherry Hill: The Separate System of Penal Discipline: 1829-1913, by Negley K. Teeters and John D. Shearer. Columbia University Press, 1957.
  3. Data based on Justice Policy Institute analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics Data Please see, "Debt to Society", July 11, 2001. (
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Schiraldi, Vincent, Holman, Barry and Beatty, Philip. Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the Untied States. Washington, D.C.: The Justice Policy Institute, 2000.
  7. Prison population data were obtained from the Office of Research and Evaluation of the United States Bureau of Prisons. These counts are from April, 2001. There are three federal prisons within Union County: Allenwood Low FCI, Allenwood Medium FCI, and Allenwood USP. The population data for Union County were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File, Matrices PL1, PL2, Pl3, and PL4. Available on the internet at . Because federal inmates may be from anywhere in the country we used national statistics to calculate the number of Hispanic/Latino prisoners who are categorized as white. Nationally, 91.2% of Hispanics report their race as white when choosing between the categories used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (White, Black, Other). 5.5% of Hispanics choose black and 3.3% choose other. For an explanation of how the prison authorities miscount prisoners based on race and ethnicity see Masking The Divide: How Officially Reported Prison Statistics Distort the Racial and Ethnic Realities of Prison Growth at

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