Race & Prisons
- Prisons Overview: Prisons, Jails, and the Correctional System
- Prison and Drugs
- Crime, Arrests and Law Enforcement
- Civil and Human Rights
Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Senior Policy Analyst.
1. Imprisonment Rates In the US By Race and Ethnicity
"There were 419 sentenced state or federal prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages at year-end 2019, a decrease from 432 per 100,000 at year-end 2018 (table 5). The federal imprisonment rate in 2019 was 48 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents, and the state rate was 371 per 100,000. The total imprisonment rate in 2019 (419 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents) was the lowest since 1995. (See appendix table 1.) Since peaking at 506 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents in both 2007 and 2008, the total imprisonment rate has fallen 17%.
"The imprisonment rate has fallen for 11 consecutive years. Imprisonment rates have declined each year since 2006 for whites and blacks (13 consecutive years) and each year since 2007 for Hispanics (12 consecutive years) (not shown in tables). They have declined each year since 2008 for males (11 consecutive years).
"Among U.S. residents age 18 or older, there were 539 sentenced prisoners in state or federal prison per 100,000 adult U.S. residents as of December 31, 2019, a 3% decline from 2018 (556 per 100,000) (table 6). The federal imprisonment rate for adults declined 4% from 2018 to 2019 (from 64 to 62 prisoners per 100,000 adult residents), while the state imprisonment rate for adults decreased 3% from 2018 to 2019 (from 491 to 477 per 100,000). About 1% of adult males living in the U.S. were serving a prison sentence of more than one year in 2019 (1,025 per 100,000 male U.S. residents age 18 or older). At year-end 2019, the imprisonment rate for adult females was 77 per 100,000 female U.S. residents age 18 or older, which was 8% as high as the imprisonment rate for adult males.
"At year-end 2019, more than 1% of black adults were serving a sentence in state or federal prisons (1,446 per 100,000 black adult U.S. residents), a 4% decline from year-end 2018 (1,501 per 100,000). The imprisonment rate of black adults at year-end 2019 was more than five times that of white adults (263 per 100,000 white adult U.S. residents) and almost twice the rate of Hispanic adults (757 per 100,000 Hispanic adult U.S. residents). From 2018 to 2019, the imprisonment rate declined 5% for Hispanic adults (from 796 to 757 per 100,000) and 2% for white adults (from 268 to 263 per 100,000).
"The imprisonment rate of black adults decreased 32% from 2009 to 2019, while the imprisonment rate of Hispanic adults declined 29% and the imprisonment rate for white adults decreased 15%.
"Imprisonment rates for white and black adults have declined for 13 consecutive years, while rates for adult Hispanics have declined for 12 consecutive years. The year 2019 marked the fourth decrease in a row for the adult female imprisonment rate and the twelfth for adult males. The rate of sentenced state prisoners has declined each year since 2007 (12 consecutive years), and the rate of sentenced federal prisoners has decreased 8 years in a row."
2. State and Federal Prison Populations in the US by Race, Gender, and Latinx Ethnicity
Demographic characteristics among sentenced prisoners
" At year-end 2019, an estimated 47% of sentenced prisoners in the U.S. were ages 25 to 39 (table 9).
" While almost 22% of all sentenced male prisoners were age 50 or older at year-end 2019, the percentage differed across race or ethnicity, with 28% of white, 20% of black, and 16% of Hispanic sentenced male prisoners in this age group.
" At year-end 2019, 3.2% of male prisoners and 1.6% of female prisoners sentenced to more than one year in state or federal prison were age 65 or older.
" On December 31, 2019, an estimated 1% of U.S. residents ages 35 to 39 (1,000 per 100,000 residents) were in state or federal prison on a sentence (table 10).
" The imprisonment rate of males in 2019 (789 prisoners per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was 13 times the imprisonment rate of females (61 per 100,000 female U.S. residents).
" Together, state and federal correctional authorities held more than 1% of black male U.S. residents ages 20 to 64 at year-end 2019, and more than 1% of Hispanic male U.S. residents ages 20 to 54.
" While the imprisonment rate of black males (2,203 per 100,000 black male U.S. residents) was 5.7 times the rate of white males (385 per 100,000 white male U.S. residents), the imprisonment rate of black females (83 per 100,000 black female U.S. residents) was 1.7 times the rate of white females (48 per 100,000 white female U.S. residents).
" The imprisonment rate of Hispanic females (63 per 100,000 Hispanic female U.S. residents) was 1.3 times the rate of white females in 2019, and was higher than all age groups except white females ages 45 to 49.
" Black males ages 18 to 19 were 12 times as likely to be imprisoned as white males of the same ages, the highest black-to-white racial disparity of any age group in 2019."
3. US Imprisonment Rates by Race
"There were 431 prisoners sentenced to more than one year in state or federal prison per 100,000 U.S. residents at year-end 2018, a decrease from 441 per 100,000 at year-end 2017 (table 5). Te state imprisonment rate was 381 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages, and the federal rate was 50 per 100,000.
"Among U.S. residents age 18 or older, there were 555 prisoners sentenced to more than one year in state or federal prison per 100,000 adult U.S. residents as of December 31, 2018 (table 6). More than 1% of adult males living in the U.S. were serving a prison sentence of more than one year (1,055 per 100,000), representing a decrease of 2.7% from year-end 2017 (1,084 per 100,000). At year-end 2018, the imprisonment rate for adult females was 80 per 100,000 female U.S. residents age 18 or older.
"From 2017 to 2018, the imprisonment rate for Hispanic adults declined 3.7%, from 823 per 100,000 Hispanic U.S. residents age 18 or older in 2017 to 792 per 100,000 in 2018. The imprisonment rate for black adults declined 3.2%, from 1,549 per 100,000 black adult residents at year-end 2017 to 1,500 per 100,000 at year-end 2018. Meanwhile, the imprisonment rate for white adults decreased 1.4%, from 272 per 100,000 white adult residents in 2017 to 268 per 100,000 in 2018.
"From year-end 2008 to year-end 2018, the imprisonment rate declined 15.2% for white adults (from 316 to 268 per 100,000) and 31.7% for black adults (from 2,196 to 1,501 per 100,000). Te number of sentenced Hispanic prisoners remained relatively steady between 2008 and 2018, while the number of Hispanic adult residents increased 33%. As a result, the imprisonment rate for Hispanics declined 25.1% over the decade."
4. Jail Inmate Population in the US by Gender and Race/Ethnicity
City and county jails in the US held 738,400 people at on June 29, 2018. ("Rates are based on the number of inmates held on the last weekday in June.")
Demographics on that date are as follows:
Only 248,500 people confined to a local jail had been convicted of any crimes and had either already been sentenced or were awaiting sentencing. The remaining 490,000 people confined to local jails were unconvicted and awaiting court action on a current charge.
"An estimated 226 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents were incarcerated nationwide at midyear 2018. Blacks were jailed at a rate of 592 per 100,000 black U.S. residents (table 2). American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIANs) had a jail incarceration rate of 401 per 100,000 AIAN U.S. residents. Whites (187 per 100,000 white U.S. residents) and Hispanics (182 per 100,000 Hispanic U.S. residents) were jailed at similar rates.
"During the past decade, the jail incarceration rate increased for whites and declined for blacks and Hispanics. From 2008 to 2018, the rate grew from 167 to 187 per 100,000 for whites (up 12%), fell from 825 to 592 per 100,000 for blacks (down 28%), and fell from 274 to 182 per 100,000 for Hispanics (down 34%).
"The male incarceration rate fell 14% between 2005 and 2018, from 448 to 387 male inmates per 100,000 male U.S. residents. During that period, the rate for females grew 10%, from 63 to 69 female inmates per 100,000 female U.S. residents.
"The black jail population dropped by 21% from 2008 to 2018
"From 2008 to 2018, the total jail population declined by 6% (47,100 inmates) (table 3). This was largely due to a 21% decrease in black inmates, which was partially offset by an 11% increase in white inmates. During this period, the overall Hispanic population (up 23%) and Asian population (up 40%) in the U.S. grew, while the number of Hispanic jail inmates decreased by 15% and the number of Asian jail inmates stayed about the same. (See appendix table 1 for population figures.)"
Zhen Zeng, PhD. Jail Inmates in 2018. Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Dept. of Justice. March 2020. NCJ253044.
5. African American Males in Prison in the US
"On December 31, 2014, black males had higher imprisonment rates than prisoners of other races or Hispanic origin within every age group. Imprisonment rates for black males were 3.8 to 10.5 times greater at each age group than white males and 1.4 to 3.1 times greater than rates for Hispanic males. The largest disparity between white and black male prisoners occurred among inmates ages 18 to 19. Black males (1,072 prisoners per 100,000 black male residents ages 18 to 19) were more than 10 times more likely to be in state or federal prison than whites (102 per 100,000)."
6. Number of People In The US Serving Time In State Prison For Drug Offenses, by Race
An illegal drug conviction was the most serious offense for 206,300 out of the 1,316,409 people in the US sentenced to state prison facilities at the end of 2014. That represents 15.7% of all sentenced prisoners under state jurisdiction. Of this total: 67,800 (32.9%) were non-Latinx white, 68,000 (33.0%) were non-Latinx African American, and 28,800 (7.2%) were Latinx. No race/ethnicity was reported for the remaining 41,700 people (20.2%) serving time in state prison for a drug offense.
E. Ann Carson, PhD, and Elizabeth Anderson. Prisoners In 2015. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dec. 2016, NCJ250229, p. 30, Appendix Table 5.
7. Adults on Community Correctional Supervision in the US in 2015, by Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Most Serious Offense
According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics:
Of the 870,500 adults in the US on parole as of 12/31/2015:
Danielle Kaeble and Thomas P. Bonczar, "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2015" (Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dec. 2016), NCJ250230, Table 1, p. 3, Table 4, p. 5, and Table 6, p. 7.
8. Estimated Number of Young Adults in the US With a Parent Who Has Ever Spent Time in Jail or Prison
"The prevalence of any PI [Parental Incarceration] was 12.5% with the 95% confidence interval (CI) of 11.3% to 13.8%. The distribution of incarceration status by category was: neither parent (87.5%, 95% CI: 86.2%–88.7%), father only (9.9%, 95% CI: 8.9%–10.9%), mother only (1.7%, 95% CI: 1.4%–2.0%), and both parents (0.9%, 95% CI: 0.7%–1.2%). A significant association was found between race and PI. Black and Hispanic individuals had the highest prevalence of PI, 20.6% and 14.8%, compared with 11.9% for white individuals and 11.6% for those classified as other. Pairwise comparison indicated the black and white prevalence rates were significantly different."
Note: Regarding study sample size: "The current study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a 4-wave longitudinal study following a nationally representative probability sample of adolescents in grades 7 through 12 in the 1994–1995 school year.46 The first 3 waves of Add Health data were collected from April to December 1995, from April to August 1996, and from August 2001 to April 2002. The fourth wave of data was collected in 2007 and 2008. The full sample for Wave 4 included 15 701 or 80.3% of the eligible participants from Wave 1. The response rates for Waves 1, 2, 3, and 4 were 79.0%, 88.6%, 77.4%, and 80.3%, respectively. The mean ages of participants during the 4 waves of data collection were 15.7 years, 16.2 years, 22.0 years, and 28.8 years, respectively.
"The current study was based on 14,800 participants who were interviewed during Wave 1 and Wave 4 and have a sampling weight. Of the 15,701 participants who participated in both Wave 1 and Wave 4 interviews, 14,800 participants have a sampling weight at Wave 4 interview that could be used to compute population estimates. For data analysis, data describing participants’ sociodemographic characteristics from Wave 1 of the Add Health study were combined with Wave 4 self-reported health outcomes and PI history."
Rosalyn D. Lee, Xiangming Fang and Feijun Luo, "The Impact of Parental Incarceration on the Physical and Mental Health of Young Adults." Pediatrics 2013;131;e1188; originally published online March 18, 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-0627.
9. Offense Distribution of People Serving Time In State Prisons in the US, by Race/Ethnicity and Gender
" More than half (54% or 707,900 prisoners) of all state prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year at year-end 2015 (the most recent year for which state prison offense data are available) were serving sentences for violent offenses on their current term of imprisonment (table 12; table 13).
" At year-end 2015, an estimated 14% of sentenced prisoners (177,600 prisoners) were serving time in state prison for murder or nonnegligent manslaughter, and an additional 12% of state prisoners (161,900) had been sentenced for rape or sexual assault.
" Among sentenced prisoners under the jurisdiction of state correctional authorities on December 31, 2015, 15% (197,200 prisoners) had been convicted of a drug offense as their most serious crime.
" At year-end 2015, 60% of all Hispanic prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year in state prison were sentenced for a violent offense, compared to 59% of black and 47% of white prisoners.
" A quarter (25%) of females serving time in state prison on December 31, 2015, had been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 14% of males."
E. Ann Carson, PhD. Prisoners In 2016. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, January 2018, NCJ251149, p. 13.
10. Children with Parents Behind Bars
"Among white children in 1980, only 0.4 of 1 percent had an incarcerated parent; by 2008 this figure had increased to 1.75 percent. Rates of parental incarceration are roughly double among Latino children, with 3.5 percent of children having a parent locked up by 2008. Among African American children, 1.2 million, or about 11 percent, had a parent incarcerated by 2008."
Western , Bruce; Pettit, Becky, "Incarceration & social inequality," Dædalus (Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Summer 2010), p. 16.
11. Parents Behind Bars
"The growth of incarceration in America has intergenerational impacts that policy makers will have to confront. According to this analysis, more than 1.2 million inmates — over half of the 2.3 million people behind bars — are parents of children under age 18. This includes more than 120,000 mothers and more than 1.1 million fathers. The racial concentration that characterizes incarceration rates also extends to incarcerated parents. Nearly half a million black fathers, for example, are behind bars, a number that represents 40 percent of all incarcerated parents.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010. Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, p. 18.
12. Parents in Prison
"Similar to men in the general prison population (93%), parents held in the nation's prisons at midyear 2007 were mostly male (92%) (not shown in table). More than 4 in 10 fathers were black, about 3 in 10 were white, and about 2 in 10 were Hispanic (appendix table 2). An estimated 1,559,200 children had a father in prison at midyear 2007; nearly half (46%) were children of black fathers.
"Almost half (48%) of all mothers held in the nation's prisons at midyear 2007 were white, 28% were black, and 17% were Hispanic. Of the estimated 147,400 children with a mother in prison, about 45% had a white mother. A smaller percentage of the children had a black (30%) or Hispanic (19%) mother."
Glaze, Lauren E. and Maruschak, Laura M., "Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children" (Washington, DC: USDOJ, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 2008, Revised March 30, 2010), NCJ222984, p. 2.
13. Incarceration of People of Color
"Mass arrests and incarceration of people of color – largely due to drug law violations46 – have hobbled families and communities by stigmatizing and removing substantial numbers of men and women. In the late 1990s, nearly one in three African-American men aged 20-29 were under criminal justice supervision, 47 while more than two out of five had been incarcerated – substantially more than had been incarcerated a decade earlier and orders of magnitudes higher than that for the general population.48 Today, 1 in 15 African-American children and 1 in 42 Latino children have a parent in prison, compared to 1 in 111 white children.49 In some areas, a large majority of African-American men – 55 percent in Chicago, for example50 – are labeled felons for life, and, as a result, may be prevented from voting and accessing public housing, student loans and other public assistance."
"Drug Courts Are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use" Drug Policy Alliance (New York, NY: March 2011), p. 9.
14. Odds of Arrest and Incarceration for Marijuana Offenses in California
"Compared to Non-blacks, California’s African-American population are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, 12 times more likely to be imprisoned for a marijuana felony arrest, and 3 times more likely to be imprisoned per marijuana possession arrest. Overall, as Figure 3 illustrates, these disparities accumulate to 10 times’ greater odds of an African-American being imprisoned for marijuana than other racial/ethnic groups."
Males, Mike, "Misdemeanor marijuana arrests are skyrocketing and other California marijuana enforcement disparities," Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (San Francisco, CA: November 2011), p. 6.
15. Female Incarceration Rates in the US in 2010 by Race/Ethnicity
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at midyear 2010, the incarceration rate for women was 126 per 100,000 population. The rate for non-Hispanic white females was 91, for non-Hispanic black females the rate was 260, and for Hispanic women the rate was 133.
Glaze, Lauren E., "Correctional Population in the United States, 2010," Bureau of Justice Statistics (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, December 2011), NCJ 236319, Appendix Table 3, p. 8.
16. Problems of Systemic Racial Biases Within Drug Courts
"Importantly, representation of African-Americans in jails and prisons was nearly twice that of both Drug Courts and probation, and was also substantially higher among all arrestees for drug-related offenses. On one hand, these discrepancies might be explained by relevant differences in the populations. For example, minority arrestees might be more likely to have the types of prior convictions that could exclude them from eligibility for Drug Courts or probation. On the other hand, systemic differences in plea-bargaining, charging or sentencing practices might be having the practical effect of denying Drug Court and other community-based dispositions to otherwise needy and eligible minority citizens. Further research is needed to determine whether racial or ethnic minority citizens are being denied the opportunity for Drug Court for reasons that may be unrelated to their legitimate clinical needs or legal eligibility."
West Huddleston and Douglas B. Marlowe, "Painting the Current Picture: A National Report on Drug Courts and Other Problem Solving Court Programs in the United States" (Alexandria, VA: National Drug Court Institute, July 2011), NCJ 235776, p. 29.
17. Racism and the War on Drugs
"The main obstacle to getting black America past the illusion that racism is still a defining factor in America is the strained relationship between young black men and police forces. The massive number of black men in prison stands as an ongoing and graphically resonant rebuke to all calls to 'get past racism,' exhibit initiative, or stress optimism. And the primary reason for this massive number of black men in jail is the War on Drugs. Therefore, if the War on Drugs were terminated, the main factor keeping race-based resentment a core element in the American social fabric would no longer exist. America would be a better place for all."
McWhorter, John, "How the War on Drugs Is Destroying Black America," Cato's Letter (Washington, DC: The Cato Institute, Winter 2011), p. 1.
18. Incarceration Rates by Race and Gender in the US in 2007
"Changes in the incarceration rates for men and women by race were associated with changes to the overall composition of the custody population at midyear 2007. Black men had an incarceration rate of 4,618 per 100,000 U.S. residents at midyear 2007, down from 4,777 at midyear 2000. For white men, the midyear 2007 incarceration rate was 773 per 100,000 U.S. residents, up from 683 at midyear 2000. The ratio of the incarceration rates of black men to white men declined from 7 to 6 during this period.
"Changes in the incarceration rates for women were more distinct. At midyear 2000, black women were incarcerated at a rate 6 times that of white women (or 380 per 100,000 U.S. residents versus 63 per 100,000 U.S. residents). By June 30, 2007, the incarceration rate for black women declined to 3.7 times that of white women (or 348 versus 95). An 8.4% decline in the incarceration rate for black women and a 51% increase in the rate for white women accounted for the overall decrease in the incarceration rate of black women relative to white women at midyear 2007."
Sabol, William J., PhD, and Couture, Heather, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2007 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, June 2008), NCJ221944, p. 8.
19. Racial Disparities in Enforcement and Incarceration
"The racial disparities in the rates of drug arrests culminate in dramatic racial disproportions among incarcerated drug offenders. At least two-thirds of drug arrests result in a criminal conviction.18 Many convicted drug offenders are sentenced to incarceration: an estimated 67 percent of convicted felony drug defendants are sentenced to jail or prison.19 The likelihood of incarceration increases if the defendant has a prior conviction.20 Since blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites on drug charges, they are more likely to acquire the convictions that ultimately lead to higher rates of incarceration. Although the data in this backgrounder indicate that blacks represent about one-third of drug arrests, they constitute 46 percent of persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts.21 Among black defendants convicted of drug offenses, 71 percent received sentences to incarceration in contrast to 63 percent of convicted white drug offenders.22 Human Rights Watch’s analysis of prison admission data for 2003 revealed that relative to population, blacks are 10.1 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for drug offenses.23"
Fellner, Jamie, "Decades of Disparity: Drug Arrests and Race in the United States," Human Rights Watch (New York, NY: March 2009), p. 16.
20. Male Incarceration Rate In The US 2007, By Race/Ethnicity
"The custody incarceration rate for black males was 4,618 per 100,000. Hispanic males were incarcerated at a rate of 1,747 per 100,000. Compared to the estimated numbers of black, white, and Hispanic males in the U.S. resident population, black males (6 times) and Hispanic males (a little more than 2 times) were more likely to be held in custody than white males. At midyear 2007 the estimated incarceration rate of white males was 773 per 100,000.
"Across all age categories, black males were incarcerated at higher rates than white or Hispanic males. Black males ages 30 to 34 had the highest custody incarceration rate of any race, age, or gender group at midyear 2007."
Sabol, William J., PhD, and Couture, Heather, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2007 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, June 2008), NCJ221944, p. 7.