The criminal justice system is riddled with racial disparities

by Alison Walsh, August 15, 2016

Race is a defining characteristic of the criminal justice system.

It is common knowledge that Blacks are disproportionately represented in prison. Looking at different types of incarceration sentences shows us how pervasive these disparities really are. This slideshow scrolls through the various incarceration sentences one may receive compared to the U.S. population, broken down by race.

Once a person is sentenced to jail, we see that Blacks are overrepresented and Whites are underrepresented, compared to the U.S. population as a whole. This disparity endures in state and federal prison sentences, life sentences, life without parole sentences, and in the death row population.

Our criminal justice system is defined by stark racial disparitiesAt every stage.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those in jail.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those in state and federal prison.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those sentenced to life in prison.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those sentenced to life without parole.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those on death row.

Compared to the U.S. population, Blacks are overrepresented in jails, state and federal prisons, life and life without parole sentences, and death penalty sentences. Conversely, Whites are underrepresented in those same categories.

Data sources:

The data:

White Black Hispanic
U.S. population 62.1% 13.2% 17.4%
Jail incarceration 47.4% 35.4% 14.9%
State & federal incarceration 33.6% 35.4% 21.6%
Life sentence 33.4% 48.3% 14.4%
Life without parole sentence 33.5% 56.4% 7.4%
Death row population 42.5% 41.7% 13.0%

2 Responses

  1. David Creighton says, 1 year, 5 months after publication:

    Black people break the law more. Unless those people being assaulted or robbed just accidentally said black when they meant white.

    How many of the 174000 people in jail for murder are black? is it 13.2% or about 23,000? NO? Well that is because more black people were murdering.

    How many of the 170000 people in jail for robbery are black? is it 13.2% or about 22,500? NO? Well that is because more black people were robbing.

    This is the same “disparity” you can see in people being shot by cops. It turns out if you commit crime at a higher rate, you get arrested more, which increases your contacts with police.

    To deny those facts .. is racist. To make people who are victimizing people the victims, because of their race, is racist.

  2. Bob Cochran says, 1 year, 7 months after publication:

    Gender is a much larger disparity than race in the prison population. There are 10 times as many men as women incarcerated.

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Events

  • May 15, 2018:
    Our Policy Analyst Lucius Couloute will be at the LEDA Summit on Race and Inclusion in Holland, Michigan, presenting his research on the challenges and disadvantages people face when they are released from prison. Tickets are available on LEDA’s website.

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