Fact Sheets
Featured Video
  • National Press Club Forum: A 25-Year Vision for Criminal Justice Reform
  • Unlocking Justice: Alternatives to Prison
State Contacts
October 4, 2013 (The Huffington Post)

Why Is the African American Imprisonment Rate Higher Than Whites?

Today, 150 years after slavery was abolished in the United States, African Americans continue to be excessively imprisoned at a considerably higher rate than their white equivalents. Additionally, racial discrepancies in our criminal justice system loom over communities of color, marginalizing millions of African American citizens by denying equal access to employment, housing, education and public benefits. Below are some of the most obvious truths relating to the criminal justice system's impact on African American communities.

1. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that one in three black men will go to prison in their lifetimes. African American men have an unequal number of happenstances with law enforcement officials, specifying that racial profiling continues to be a problem. The Department of Justice recently released a study stating that blacks and Hispanic individuals were approximately three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop than a white person. The same study concluded that African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and nearly four times as likely to experience the use of force from law enforcement at the same traffic stop.

2. The Department of Education has recently released data showing that African American students in the United States are arrested significantly more than white classmates. This data revealed that out of 242,000 students referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of these students.

3. African Americans make up 30 percent of the United States population and 60 percent of the imprisoned population. The increasing incarceration rate in the U.S. disproportionately impacts African Americans. Only 1 in every 106 white men is incarcerated, in comparison to 1 in every 15 African Americans.

4. The United States war on drugs has been conducted predominantly in communities of color. Human Rights Watch has found that people of color are not any more likely to use or sell drugs than white people, and yet they have a significantly higher rate of arrests. African American citizens encompass 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those who are arrested for drug crimes. Between the years 1980 and 2007 one in every three of the 25 million U.S. adult citizens arrested for drug offenses were African Americans.

5. The African American youth population in the United States has much higher rates of juvenile imprisonment and is also more likely to be sentenced to adult prison. The Sentencing Project noted in a report that while African American juveniles are approximately 16 percent of the United States youth population, 37 percent of their cases are transferred to criminal court and 58 percent of the United States colored youth are sent to adult prisons.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Racial Disparity, Felony Disenfranchisement, Drug Policy