Maybe Minorities just Commit More Crimes

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The three major race groups in America include Whites, Blacks and Hispanics. According to the US Census Bureau, Whites account for 77.1% of the population, Blacks 13.3% and Hispanics 17.6%. One would think that prison demographics would somewhat similar to this. Wrong! From a report from The Sentencing Project, more than 60% of the people in prison today are people of color. Black men are nearly six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. What’s the reason behind this? Maybe minorities just commit more crimes…

Roger Clegg tends to agree with this. In an editorial he wrote in the National Review, Clegg argues that there are more minorities in jail not because the Government is targeting them, but simply because they tend to commit more crimes. “If a disproportionate number of those arrested for drug crimes are black, it is because a disproportionate number of drug criminals are black. It is not true that all groups use illegal drugs at the same rate, and in any event it is not for using drugs but for selling them that people are typically sent to prison.”

Later in the article, Clegg suggest that if you belong to a racial or ethnic group that you think is targeted by the police, then especially do not use, buy, or sell illegal drugs. Ironically enough, Clegg serves as the president and general counsel for Center of Equal Opportunity.

Roger Clegg’s argument above can best be summed up as “alternative facts”. The major flaw in Clegg’s argument is that it fails to account for the many racial disparities when it comes to incarceration in America.

In an article found in the Huffington Post, author Kim Farbota list the three reasons why Blacks are more highly represented in the prison population. Unlike Clegg, Farbota claims are supported by proven statistics.

  1. If a black person and a white person each commit a crime, the black person is more likely to be arrested. This is due in part to the fact that black people are more heavily policed.
  2. When black people are arrested for a crime, they are convicted more often than white people arrested for the same crime.
  3. When black people are convicted of a crime, they are more likely to be sentenced to incarceration compared to whites convicted of the same crime.


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Lifetime likelihood of imprisonment of U.S. residents born in 2001, courtesy of The Sentencing Project


So how can we close this racial incarceration gap? Quite frankly I’m not sure how or if it’ll ever happen, but I am positive that this gap will not close unless there is a major reform in the criminal-justice system.


U.S Prisons System

Walter Kamau Bell, who is a stand-up comedian and the host on United Shades of America on CNN, explains why America has the world’s highest incarceration rate and why former prisoners keep going back and forth to jail.


Racial Disparity in Private Prisons

Even within the criminal justice system where policies are supposed to be fair and where no one is above the law, racial disparities are still prevalent.

A study by researcher Christopher Petrella from the University of California-Berkeley reveals that there is a greater percentage of people of color in private prisons than public prisons.


In order to remain cost-effective, private prisons contracts allow prisons to avoid housing inmates that require expensive medical treatment (who are often older), thus meaning that they will target prisoners who are younger and healthier.

As seen in the graph below, private prisons have lower rates of inmates above age 50 (and often white) compared to public prisons.




The difference in terms of race and age stems from the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has disproportionately targeted communities of color by implementing strict sentencing policies e.g. three-strikes law and mandatory minimum sentencing.

“In many ways, the so called ‘War on Drugs’ was a war on communities of color, a war on black communities, a war on Latino communities.” – Angela Davis

“You start out in 1954 by saying nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968, you can’t say nigger, that hurts you. It backfires. So you say stuff like forced-bussing, state’s rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now. You’re talking about cutting taxes, and all of these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and the by-product of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.” – Lee Atwater, campaign strategist for Ronald Reagan

In addition to the racial climate of America after the civil rights movement, the profit motive of private prisons and corporations also exacerbates the racial disparity. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an organization where corporate members like State Farm Insurance, Koch Industries, and PhRMA propose laws to politicians and vote alongside legislators for bills and laws. After this, lawmakers introduce the laws to their state. This means that corporations have a huge influence on state legislations, one of them being Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the first private prison corporation. The CCA introduced  series of bills like the three-strikes law and mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have allowed for private prisons to be continuously supplied with inmates to ensure profit, which goes to ALEC’s shareholders. For instance, the War on Drugs,  proposed by CCA and supported by ALEC, led to younger, healthier inmates, who disproportionately constitutes people of color.

Ultimately, Petrella says his results “shed light on the ways in which ostensibly colorblind policies and attitudes can actually have very racially explicit outcomes. Racial discrimination cannot exist legally, yet still manifests itself.”