Briefing by Leah Sakala
May 28, 2014
Over the last four decades, the United States has undertaken a national project of over criminalization that has put more than two million people behind bars at any given time, and brought the U.S. incarceration rate far beyond that of any other nation in the world. A closer look at which communities are most heavily impacted by mass incarceration reveals stark racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. incarceration rates in every region of the country.
Nationally, according to the U.S. Census, Blacks are incarcerated five times more than Whites1 are, and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to be incarcerated as Whites:
|Race/Ethnicity||% of US population||% of U.S. |
|National incarceration rate
|White (non-Hispanic)||64%||39%||450 per 100,000|
|Hispanic||16%||19%||831 per 100,000|
|Black||13%||40%||2,306 per 100,000|
Social science research has time and again come to the robust conclusion that exposure to the criminal justice system has profound and intergenerational negative effects on communities that experience disproportionate incarceration rates.3 It is imperative that we are able to measure the extent to which the criminal justice system disparately impacts our communities.
Until 2006, researchers, advocates, and policymakers could rely on state-level race and ethnicity incarceration rate data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics "Prisons and Jails at Midyear" series.4 Unfortunately, these state-level statistics have not been updated in eight years.5 This report endeavors to meet this data need to the extent possible with existing data by using 2010 U.S. Census counts to measure each state's incarceration rates by race and ethnicity. This report accompanies a web database of graphs and statistics with incarceration rates by race and ethnicity data for all 50 U.S. states.
Using Summary File 1 data from the 2010 Census, we calculated for each state 1) the incarcerated and non-incarcerated portions of the people in that state of a given race or ethnicity and 2) an incarceration rate for each single-race category, and for Hispanic populations. Both calculations compare the state's total population6 with the prison, jail, and detention center population that the Census Bureau counted in "Correctional facilities for adults."7
Several specific data notes particularly merit attention here:
Ideally, of course, every state would collect and publish data for every racial and ethnic group incarcerated in the prisons, jails and other correctional facilities in that state’s jurisdiction.10 In addition, we hope that the Bureau of Justice Statistics will soon resume its data series with state-by-state total incarceration rates for Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks. Data supplied both by an individual state and by the Bureau of Justice Statistics would avoid being skewed by federal prison counts, as discussed in footnote 8. But until we have the benefit of these updated figures, the Census Bureau's data collection presented in this analysis is a useful starting point for state-level evaluations of the disparate impacts of criminal justice policy decisions.
The graphs made for this briefing are included in our profiles for each state:
and are available individually from this list:
"Whites" refers to white non-Hispanics throughout this report and the accompanying figures. Because the Census Bureau does not publish non-Hispanic data for any other race in correctional or detention facilities, all other racial categories in this report are that race alone without distinguishing ethnicity. ↩
Figures calculated with Census 2010 SF-1 table P42 and the PCT20 table series. ↩
See eg. The Pew Charitable Trusts, Collateral Costs: Incarcerations Effect on Economic Mobility, 2010. Accessed from: http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2010/collateralcosts1pdf.pdf on October 30, 2012; Justice Strategies, Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Human Costs of Parental Incarceration, January, 2011. Accessed from http://www.justicestrategies.org/sites/default/files/publications/JS-COIP-1-13-11.pdf on October 30, 2012; Bruce Western & Becky Pettit, Incarceration and Social Inequality August, 2010. Accessed from: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/DAED_a_00019 on October 30, 2012. ↩
The Bureau of Justice statistics only periodically conducts a complete census of local jails, and otherwise releases an annual nationally representative sample. As of the date this report was released, the most recent complete jail census was conducted in 2005. ↩
Total population was accessed from table P1, "Total Population." Race and ethnicity data was accessed from the PCT20 table series. Rates for Whites reflect White non-Hispanics only. ↩
Table P42, "Group Quarters by Group Quarters Type." ↩
Some state departments of correction keep more detailed information on incarcerated populations, such as breakdowns of state and federal population data or different types for correctional or detention facilities. Because many states do not collect such data in a standardized manner, however, Census Bureau data allows us to generate a national dataset with consistent methodology. On the other hand, the Census Bureau’s methodology of putting local, state and federal correctional facilities in the same category makes it inappropriate to use this dataset to directly compare individual states with one another, or to attribute the findings of these graphs entirely to policy decisions made within a given state. For example, see the data notes on the Kentucky and West Virginia profile pages. ↩
While some states do release race and ethnicity data, many calculations reflect only state prisons and do not include the significant portion of people who are incarcerated in jails. In addition, data from places such as Hawaii illustrate the limitations of current correctional data collection practices (see detailed data note). ↩