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NCJ Number
University of Colorado Law Review Volume: 64 Issue: 3 Dated: (1993) Pages: 743-760
A Blumstein
Date Published
18 pages
A distressing aspect of the U.S. prison population is the high degree of disproportionality in incarceration rates for blacks compared to whites, with a ratio of about seven to one.
Recent reports have focused on statistics about the high-risk group of black males in their 20's. The range of controls for offenders, including prison, jail, probation, and parole, intensifies the concern about the extent to which gross racial disproportionality in incarceration rates is a function of discrimination within the criminal justice system versus a true reflection of differential involvement in crime. One study indicates that, for less serious crimes, the fraction of blacks actually in prison tends to be larger than the fraction of blacks arrested and that 80 percent of disproportionality in prison can be explained by differential involvement in arrest. Nonetheless, racial discrimination may exist the remaining 20 percent of the time. A comparison of data on racial disproportionality for 1979 and 1991 reflects a dramatic growth in the number of drug offenders in prison, racial disproportionality in incarceration rates of about seven to one, and racial differences at arrest that account for 76 percent of disproportionality. Blacks comprised 57.7 percent of the prisoners for drug offenses in 1991 but represented only 40.4 percent of drug arrestees; they were overrepresented in prison by 43 percent compared to arrest. Racial disproportionality in prison for offenses other than those involving drugs was somewhat improved. Although aggregate racial disproportionality in the United States is about seven to one, this ratio varies considerably across States. State-specific ratios of black-to-white incarceration rates for 1990 suggest that the lowest ratios occur in southern States. 24 footnotes, 3 tables, and 5 figures