Although the total prison population has decreased in recent years, the Black prison population has decreased the most.
Statistics once discovered that one in three African-American males born in 1981 would experience jail or prison.
Now, statistics show that one in every five African-American males born in 2001 will face incarceration during their lifetime.
The Sentencing Project reported, “Following a massive, four-decade-long buildup of incarceration disproportionately impacting people of color, a growing reform movement has made important inroads. The 21st century has witnessed progress both in reducing the U.S. prison population and its racial and ethnic disparities. The total prison population has declined by 25% after reaching its peak in 2009. While all major racial and ethnic groups experienced decarceration, the Black prison population has downsized the most. The number of imprisoned Black Americans decreased 39% since its peak in 2002. Despite the progress, imprisonment levels remain too high nationwide, particularly for Black Americans.”
Many attribute the lower incarceration rates to reform to drug law enforcement and to sentencing for property and drug crimes especially those affecting urban communities which have large minority populations.
Scholars have called the decline in the incarceration of African American men a “generational shift,” which in fact has also seen a 70 percent decline in the incarceration of African-American women.
The decline amongst African-American women represents the biggest decline.
Despite the decline, The Sentencing Project believes progress in the racial disparity in incarceration rates is not complete and at risk of reversing if certain measures are not enforced.
The Sentencing Project reported, “The United States remains fully in the era of mass incarceration. The 25% decline in the total prison population since 2009 follows a nearly 700% buildup in imprisonment since 1972. The prison population in 2021 was nearly six times as large as 50 years ago, before the era of mass incarceration, and in 2022 the prison population expanded. The prison and jail incarceration rate in the United States remains between five and eight times that of France, Canada, and Germany and imprisonment rates in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma are nearly 50% above the national average. The reluctance to fully correct sentencing excesses, particularly for violent crimes as supported by criminological evidence, prolongs the harm and futility of mass incarceration.”
Although the numbers have decreased, African-American men are still four times as likely to go to prison as White men.
Likewise, African-American women are 1.6 times more likely to go to prison as their White female counterparts.
Furthermore, Native Americans and Latinos are 4.2 times and 2.4 times, respectively, more likely to be imprisoned than their White counterparts.
The Sentencing Project said that to address the racial disparities in imprisonment more work is needed in the criminal legal justice system and some of the socioeconomic factors that makes people in certain communities susceptible to committing certain crimes.
However, the criminal justice system as people know it today was designed to re-enslave African-Americans after their emancipation in 1865.
When slavery ended, there was a need for free labor to make up for the lost free labor that wealthy landowners and corporations enjoyed when the enslavement of African-Americans was legal in the United States.
The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows for the enslavement of prisoners.
Therefore, White people would often arrest African-Americans for made-up charges like not having a job without a White man’s permission.
The judge would give the African-American a fine for their “crime,” which many could not afford.
Therefore, a corporation or large farm would offer to pay the fine if the African-American worked for them for free to pay off the debt.
However, because of added on interest the fines would never get repaid and the African-American was often forced to work for their sponsor for free for their entire lifetime.
The arrangement was called convict leasing, and many believe that convict leasing was worse than slavery because the leaser did not pay big bucks for the enslaved like the slave master often did.
Additionally, many convicts and ex-convicts lost their right to vote back in the day.
Therefore, many believed that the high incarceration rates for African-Americans and other minorities was a way to disenfranchise people of color.
The Sentencing Project added, “The momentum for continued progress is precarious. Following a dramatic crime drop since the 1990s, the recent uptick in some crime categories—particularly homicides—during the COVID 19 pandemic, as well as the opioid overdose crisis, have led many lawmakers to retreat to the failed punitive policies of the past. A bipartisan backlash to criminal justice reform includes a Congressional proposal to expand mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses and a Congressional resolution overturning Washington, D.C.’s criminal code overhaul—both without rejection from the Democratic president who campaigned on cutting incarceration levels by half.
“This backlash also includes New York’s narrowing bail reform and Florida’s re-disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions. These efforts impose a double harm of incarceration, and serious violent victimization which mass incarceration fails to address.”