The percentages of Blacks and Whites being incarcerated are converging. Nationally, Black incarceration rates are dropping, while Whites are on the increase, according to a Marshall Project analysis of yearly reports by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The report found that between 2000 and 2015, the imprisonment rate of Black men dropped by more than 24 percent. At the same time, the White male rate increased slightly.
The narrowing of the gap between White and Black incarceration rates is “definitely optimistic news,” John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University, told The Washington Post.
Among women, the trend is even more dramatic. From 2000 to 2015, the Black female imprisonment rate dropped by nearly 50 percent. During the same period, the White female rate rose by 53 percent.
The racial disparity between Black and White women’s incarceration was once 6 to 1, according to the Sentencing Project. Now, it’s 2 to 1.
“If we want to continue or accelerate [that trend], we need to acknowledge it and figure out why it’s happening,” said Adam Gelb, director of the public safety performance program at The Pew Charitable Trusts and an expert on prison data.
“Tennessee is 17.1 percent Black, but Blacks make up 69 percent of all drug-free school zone offenders…”REASON Magazine, January 2018
Prison system experts attribute the narrowing gap between Black and White incarceration to a number of reasons, including a general decline in crime and arrests; a significant drop in violent crime, which means fewer substantial prison sentences; a shift away from crack and marijuana toward meth and opioids in the war on drugs; and, the fact that criminal justice reform has occurred in cities, where more Black people live, while less progressive change has occurred in rural areas.
Another possibility: White people have faced declining socioeconomic prospects, leading to an increase in law-breaking among that population. From 2000 to 2009, Black incarceration for property offenses fell 9 percent, while White incarceration for those crimes increased 21 percent.
“African American families comprise 42 percent of welfare recipients…but are 59 percent of poor people shown on television are African American.” “Sustaining Stereotypes” by Lanien Frush Holt in QUILL Summer 2018 www.spj.org/quill
Even so, racial inequality in the prison system remains a serious issue. At the current rate, the disparities would not fully disappear for many decades, according to the Washington Post.
“Until we learn the true value of the lives we have wasted, and until we truly reckon with our nation’s history,” Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow) told the Marshall Project in 2015, “… we will find ourselves in an endless cycle of reform and retrenchment—periods of apparent progress followed by the creation of new systems of racial and social control.”