A QUESTION OF RACE
MINORITY/WHITE INCARCERATION IN NEW YORK STATEJanuary, 1987
By JIM MURPHY
Center for Justice Education
362 STATE ST., ALBANY, NEW YORK 12210 (518) 436-9222
INTRODUCTION Criminal justice in New York State is the story of two nations: one white, the other black; one resembling the European justice system which incarcerates at relatively low rates, the other exceeding South Africa in its rate of black imprisonment.
it is a story that we should recognize, for it was predicted nearly 20 years ago by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders when it concluded: "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white - separate and unequal." (1) Without major changes, it is a story that is likely to get worse.
By now, we are used to reports of rising rates of imprisonment. If official reports and stories don't tell us, then politicians do as they advertise how "tough on crime" they are. The 1985 reports have just come out for State and Federal prisons and, as you would expect, imprisonment rates have increased.
The official report for 1985 lists the facts. There were more than 500,000 prisoners in state and federal facilities at a rate of imprisonment of 201 per 100,000 population.(2) That's an increase of 70% since 1977. New York State had 34,718 prisoners for 2 rate of 195 per 100,000, a 79% increase since 1977.(3) As we prepare this report at the end of 1986, there are more than 39,000 prisoners in the New York system.(4)
Those are the facts, but they do not tell the whole story. Hidden in those general numbers of 201 per 100,000 citizens in prison and an increase of 200,000 prisoners nationally and an increase of 15,339 in New York is the story of the two nations.
FACTS New York State's prison system saw a dramatic increase of incarceration for whites between 1975-1985 from 31 to 67 per 100,000, (chart 1). These rates for whites were like the European experience (5) where rates of imprisonment are relatively low, varying in 1983 from 28 per 100,000 in the Netherlands to 114 per 100,000 in Austria. (chart 2). Generally speaking, European criminal justice systems have fewer and shorter prison sentences and closer ties to social programs and alternatives to incarceration.
For blacks, however, the use of imprisonment mirrors not these less punitive European systems, but Apartheid-ridden South Africa which had a 1984 black incarceration rate of 504 per 100,000.(6) New York's 1985 rate of 776 blacks imprisoned per 100,000 is 1 1/2 times greater than South Africa's (chart 1) and more than ten times the rates for whites.
The rates become more astounding when instead of comparing the number of blacks or whites in prison to their numbers in the general population, there is a comparison of white and black male prisoners to their numbers in the 16-35 year old age category. That age group accounts for about 70%0' of the prison population and the comparison gives a better idea of the extent of incarceration.
The New York State Coalition for Criminal Justice's Center for Justice Education received a breakdown of the the male prison population on July 10, 1986 by race and by county and compared it to updated 1980 census figures. (Chart 3) New York State with 433,000 black males between the ages of 16-35 had 18,145 black males in the State Prison system on that day, the equivalent of 4,190 per 100,000, or more than 4%. The white male prison population was 7,725 out of 2,284,000
white males between the ages of 16-35 a rate of 338 per 100,000. The imprisonment rate for blacks was twelve times the rate for whites.
Using the same comparison, the largest counties of the State (over 100,000 in population), showed real differences in their rates of incarceration for both blacks and whites ( a whole study in itself), but within each county there were dramatic racial differences. White rates varied from a low of 169 per 100,000 in Dutchess County to Albany's high of 847 per 100,000. Black rates Varied from Chautauqua's low at 1,781 to Manhattan's high of 10,649.(7)
In the Capital District, Albany County, acknowledged as a County with severe sentences, had high imprisonment rates for both whites and blacks, but the differences in those rates were enormous. Albany with 3,830 black males between the ages of 16 and 35 had 298 black males in prison, a rate of 7,780 per 100,000, or 8%. On the Same day, there were 367 white males in prison and 43,000 males between the age of 16-35, a rate of 853 per 100,000 or .9%. If jail population. were considered, Albany County would have the equivalent of over 10% of the young black male population in prison or jail. (8)
Moreover, when one compares the rates of Felony Probation caseloads by county and by race to rates of incarceration as we did for the summer of 1986, (chart 4) the disparity is even greater. In August 1986, there were three times as many whites on felony probation as there were in prison. No county in New York had more white Males in prison than on felony probation. (chart 4). For blacks the picture was different, only 9 of the 24 largest counties had more blacks on probation than in prison. Statewide there were more black males in prison than on felony probation. Only Queens County showed similar ratios between blacks and whites in prison and on probation, while Albany and New York counties had more than twice as many blacks in prison as on probation.
Apart from our look at current records, New York's Division of Criminal Justice Services' Annual Reports on Criminal Justice Processing for Felony Offenders detail an historic disparity in the disposition of felony cases. Each of these reports from 1979-1983 indicate a similar picture. Blacks are more likely to receive prison and jail sentences and less likely to receive probation, fines and conditional discharges. In the 1983 report (chart 5), the latest available, 48% of the blacks convicted of a felony received a prison sentence compared to 35% of whites and hispanics (a difference likely to be larger if whites and hispanics were not included in a single category). Blacks not sentenced to prison were more likely to receive jail sentences, 28% for blacks, 22% for whites and hispanics. They were also less likely to receive probation as a sentence; 17,% for blacks and 2 3,% for whites/hispanics. Whites/hispanics were also more likely to receive sentences of fines and conditional discharge.
THE REASONS FOR THE DISPARITY Of course, facts are open to varying interpretations. By themselves, they cannot be used as absolute evidence of racial bias or inequity. Experts tell us that there are too many variables. What was a person's prior record? What were the rates of reported offenses by race?
These facts do, however, raise very serious questions. At the very least, they are suggestive of similarities between inequities in criminal justice and other very well documented inequities in American life. What can be the rational explanation for blacks being imprisoned at rates exceeding South Africa's? Is it crime? Is it arrest rates? Is it poverty and social deprivation? Are there inequities in criminal justice procedure? Why is there such variation on the rates between counties and what can explain the fact that Queens has similar percentages of imprisonment and probation for both whites and blacks and every other county does not?
Because of the complexity of the factors involved, there have been few studies on the issue, but those that have so far been undertaken support the common sense supposition that racial bias is a demonstrable factor in imprisonment rates.
It has been argued that blacks and other racial minorities are imprisoned in greater proportion than whites simply because they commit more crimes. According to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics published by the National Institute of Justice, blacks do indeed commit certain crimes more often, proportionately, than whites, but in no category of criminal offenses does that difference account for the 12:1 ratio of imprisonment that we find in New York State. (chart 6)
The theory that blacks are sent to prison more often because they are sentenced more often for crimes that result in imprisonment (robbery, homicide, assault, and burglary), was looked at in a 1983 study by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. In a report entitled, "Discrimination and the decision to Incarcerate".(9) 11,098 Cases involving probation eligible offenders convicted of felony Cases in 1980 were examined. It was found that blacks were more likely to be incarcerated than whites. Their rates of difference were; 5 % in New York City; 13,%% in the suburbs of the City and 17% in Upstate. While the New York City disparity rates were not perceived to be significant, the arrest rate did not fully explain the disparity Upstate and in the Suburbs. They concluded: "this evidence can be interpreted as establishing a prima facie case that race plays an important role in sentencing defendants from the Suburban and Upstate regions of New York State". (10)
A much broader study conducted in Washington State looked at the disparity issue.(11) The Study was requested by the Washington State legislature and was directed to explain the "disproportionate rate of men and women of racial and ethnic minorities in our state prisons and local jails". They studied five selected counties. After examining the practices of arrest, adjudication and imprisonment, the authors concluded:
"Minorities accused of crime were more likely than whites to be charged with serious and violent crimes, more likely than whites to be detained pretrial, less likely to plead guilty to crimes, and more likely to be sentenced to prison. Defendant's race and ethnicity contributed to, these differences; they were not solely attributable to legally relevant differences between the criminal cases of Minorities and Whites.....
Clearly race makes a difference in criminal justice processing. Differences in processing are not limited to a single decision point but rather occur at every Stage and seem to have a cumulative effect ... small differences at one stage may be compounded at subsequent stages". (emphasis added) (12)
No doubt the issue of race and imprisonment merits further investigation, but we already know enough to question the wisdom and fairness of policies that send so many blacks to prison.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE. I n addition to the New York State Coalition for Criminal Justice's specific recommendations for criminal justice reforms(13), it is our belief that a wise policy for New York's criminal justice system must include a strategy of community well being and safety, as well as equality before the law. Both of these considerations will lead to a rethinking Of Many current practices including the over-reliance on imprisonment.
Criminal justice processing in all of its phases from arrest through pre-trial release, the quality of representation and the disposition of cases requires the kind of attention to eliminate racial bias that the New York State Defenders Association has suggested. (Chart 7)
Beyond matters of mandatory prison sentences and equity, criminal justice policy in New York is much more than a matter of crime and punishment. It is tied to broader social policy issues especially those of employment, education, housing, and access to basic supportive services.
Recent reports on the problem of' high school dropouts by the New York State African American Institute of the State University (14) and by the Governor's own Task Force on Poverty and Welfare (15) highlight the seriousness of problems that increase the likelihood of crime and threaten public safety.
We believe that those studies and the recommendations of groups such as the Statewide Emergency Network for Social and Economic Security (SENSES), the Campaign for Common Sense, the State Council on Alcoholism, the New York Coalition of Substance Abuse Programs, and others need to play a major part in any attempt to reduce crime and make the streets safer. After all, how many cells will be enough and what will it profit us to build them, when:
- "More than four in ten minority children are poor and more than half of all children who live in female-headed families are poor" (16)
- "The 1983 Report of Aspira, Racial and Ethnic High School Rates in NYC. ... Found a dropout rate of 80% for Latinos and 72,% for African Americans." (17)
- "The unemployment rate for African American teens was more than 42,%. While 51.2,% of white teenagers were employed, only 25.5.% of African Americans and 30.4/% of Latino teenagers were employed". (18)
The critical question is whether we will adopt a strategy that recognizes and strengthens both equal treatment under law and the social fabric. The Alternative is to continue locking up more of the poor and minorities as our society continues to be two nations drawn apart: rich and poor, black and white, haves and have nots.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS While the views expressed are those of the Coalition we wish to thank Frank Tracy, Director of Research and Planning, DOCS, James Creighton and Alice Green of the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives and Shelley Kath of Albany for allow us to use the chart that she prepared on European rates of imprisonment.
NOTES It should be noted that imprisonment rates for hispanics and other minorities are extremely high. This study has concentrated on imprisonment rates for blacks as compared to whites, but believes that there are close parallels between blacks, hispanics and other minorities.
1. The Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, New York Times Co, New York 1968, introduction.
2. Prisoners in 1985, Bulletin Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, June 1986
3. Prisoners .. Above for 1985 data, Department of Correctional Services for years 1977-1984.
4. Distribution of Inmate Population as of December 2, 1986, Department of Correctional Services, Albany, the weekly count lists 38,723 State Inmates and 551 StateReady inmates.
5. Kath, Shelley "The Use of Criminal Sanctions" in Duffee Punishment and Corrections, New York: Random House , forthcoming.
Ms. Kath Constructed the table from data presented in Council of Europe, Prison Information Bulletin No. 2, Strasbourg, France:Council of Europe, 1983, p. 17, p. 25, p.28.
6. Data on South African prisons from Report of the Department of Justice, Republic of South Africa for the period I July 1983-30 June 1984, South African population data is from Statesman's Year Book 85/86
7. St Lawrence county's rate was higher yet at over 19,000. Since it was based on only 18 Black inmates, we did not use it.
8. According to the Sheriff's 1985 Annual Report,
Albany County Jail and Penitentiary had an average daily population of 330 males and a black admission rate, resulting in an estimated 115 black males in the County Jail on average - a 3% addition to the 7.8% prison rate.
9. Bruce Frederick & Sherwood Zimmerman, Office of Program Development and Research, N Y State DCJS Ma y 12,1983.
10. Ibid..pg iv.
11. George Bridges & Robert Crutchfield, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Imprisonment, Washington Public Policy Notes, Vol 14 # I Winter 1986, Institute for Public Policy Management University of Washington.
13. The New York State Coalition for Criminal Justice takes positions on a number of criminal justice issues. Many of our specific recommendations on alternatives and incarceration have been made in concert with The Campaign for Common Sense of which vie are an active member.
14. New York State African American Institute of the State University of New York, Dropping Out of School in New York State: The Invisible People of Color, a Report -of the -Task -Force on the New York State Dropout Problem, Albany 1986.
15. Task Force on Poverty and Welfare, A New Social Contract Rethinking the Nature and Purpose of Public Assistance Report, submitted -to Governor Cuomo December, 1986.
16. ibid. 6.
17.Task Force on New York State Dropout Problem .. pg 8.
18. ibid pg 16.
IMPRISONMENT NEW YORK 1977-1966 (1)
|YEAR||PRISON POP (2)||RATE||WHITE POP||RATE||BLACK POP||RATE|
2. Male & female prison population.
3. Figures and rates for 1985 based on 52% Black and 26% White inmate population.
4. Figures for 1986 are based on Department of Correctional Services December 8,1986 Report and do not include 495 inmates sentenced but not yet in State custody. As for 1985 figures are based on 52% black and 26% white inmate population.
IMPRISONMENT RATES PER 100,000 POPULATION FOR SELECTED EUROPEAN COUNTRIES FEB. 1, 1983
|West Germany (1)||61,778||100.3|
|England & Wales||43,368||87.0|
Source: Table constructed by Shelley L. Kath, ("The Use of Criminal Sanctions" in Duffee Punishment and Corrections, New York: Random House, forthcoming) from data presented in Council of Europe, Prison Information Bulletin No. 2., Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe, 1983, p. 17, p.25, p-28.
IMPRISONMENT COMPARED TO 16-35 YEAR OLD MALE POPULATION 1986 (1)
|NEW YORK STATE||7,725||338||18,145||4,190|
PROBATION AND IMPRISONMENT COMPARED BY RACE -- 1986 (1)
|NEW YORK STATE||7,725||23,792||18,145||17,707|
NEW YORK STATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESSING FELONY DISPOSITION (1)
|CONVICTIONS UPPER COURT||17,481||16,337|
|JAIL & PROBATION||2,045||5||1,310||3|
|FINE & COND DISC||974||2||336||1|
2. SOME CASES ARE DISPOSED IN THE UPPER COURTS OTHERS IN THE LOWER. FIGURES FOR PRISON ARE BASED ON UPPER COURT CONVICTIONS. THE REMAINING FIGURES ARE BASED ON TOTAL CONVICTIONS.
PERCENT DISTRIBUTION OF VICTIMIZATIONS BY CRIME AND RACE (1)
Perceived Race of Single Offender (2)
|Type of Crime||White||Black||Other|
|Violent Crime (4,219,850)||68.6||26.1||5.2|
|Rape (152,010)||60.1||29.9||9.9 (a)|
Perceived Race of Multiple Offender (3)
|Violent Crime (1,637,960)||49.8||34.4||9.9||5.8|
|Rape (26,480)||18.2 (a)||55.1(a)||12.5 (a)||14.2 (a)|
(a) Estimate, based on zero or an about 10 or fewer sample cases, is statistically unreliable.
1. Taken from and summarised by author from Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1984, U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics May 1986.
2. Ibid.. Table 42, pg 49.
3. Ibid.. Table 49, pg 54.