A blog recently posted via the Washington Post highlights notable data on racial and gender dynamics regarding recent changes in the rates of incarceration.
Following decades of growth, the U.S. imprisonment rate has been declining for the past several years and hidden within this overall trend is the sizable and surprising racial disparity that African-Americans are actually benefitting from the national de-incarceration trend while whites are serving time at increasingly higher rates.
The pattern of results, evident in a series of reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is most stark among women, for the imprisonment rate among African-American women has dropped 47 percent since 2000, while the rate among white women has risen by 56 percent.
A similar pattern emerges for the men who compose a much larger share of the prison population, for the rate of imprisonment among African-American men remains very high but has nevertheless tumbled 22% since 2000 while the rate for white men is 4% higher than it was in 2000.
In responding to the data, Fordham University Professor John Pfaff stated that “law enforcement attitudes getting tougher in rural areas and softer in urban areas may be contributing to this change.”
The director of the public safety performance project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, Adam Gelb, suggested that “changes in drug use and enforcement over the past 15 years could be at play,” while Stanford Law School Professor Joan Petersilia noted that another possible cause is that “sex offenders, who are disproportionately white and tend to receive long sentences, are a new target for the war on crime.