Dec 4, 2019

Study shows dip in racial disparities in criminal justice system

A new report from the Council on Criminal Justice shows that racial disparities in the criminal justice system declined between 2000 and 2016, but there remains a gap in white, Hispanic and black populations in prison, parole and on probation.

The big picture: The study used data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics to compare the time white people spend in prison or under supervision to that of black or Hispanic people. The report found that disparities between racial and ethnic groups were at their lowest among probation populations, and their highest with individuals in prison or parole.

By the numbers: The study reports several notable findings:

  • In 2000, black people were incarcerated in state prisons at a rate of 8.3 times higher than white people. Hispanic people were incarcerated in state prisons at a rate of 3.6 times higher. Those rates dropped to ratios of 5.1-to-1 and 1.4-to-1, respectively.
  • Rates in federal prisons dropped as well, but by a smaller margin. Between 2001 and 2017, rates for black people compared to white people fell from 8.4-to-1 to 7-to-1. Rates for Hispanic people compared to white people dropped from 7.3-to-1 to 4.6-to-1.
  • The number of black men in state prison fell by over 48,000 individuals. The number of white men jumped to more than 59,000.
  • The number of black women in prison declined by more than 12,000, while the number of white women spiked by about 25,000.

Between the lines: The study's authors attribute a decrease of drug crimes in the 16-year stretch to the thinning gap. Criminal justice reform advocates often argue that the "war on drugs" is to blame for racial disparities in prisons.

  • The largest drop in state imprisonment came from drug-related offenses. In 2000, black people were incarcerated for drug-related crimes at 15 times higher than that of white people. By 2016, the ratio dropped to 5-to-1.

Go deeper: Parole and probation sends hundreds of thousands of people back to prison

Go deeper