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Toward a Demographic Understanding of Incarceration Disparities: Race, Ethnicity, and Age Structure

NCJ Number
Journal of Quantitative Criminology Volume: 32 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2016 Pages: 515-530
Date Published
December 2016
16 pages
Since the risk of incarceration varies with age and there are striking differences in age distributions across racial/ethnic groups, this study examined the extent to which differences in age structure account for incarceration disparities across racial and ethnic groups.
The study determined that the non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic incarceration rates in 2010 would have been 13-20 percent lower if these racial/ethnic groups had age structures identical to the non-Hispanic White population. In addition, age structure accounted for 20 percent of the Hispanic/White disparity and 8 percent of the Black/White disparity. The study's methodology involved two techniques commonly used in the field of demography, age-standardization and decomposition. These techniques were used with data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the 2010 decennial census in assessing the contribution of age structure to racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration. The study concluded that since the risk of imprisonment is linked to age, criminologists should consider adjusting for age structure when comparing rates of incarceration across groups. (Publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: December 1, 2016