Study Finds a gradual drop in Black – American Prison Population

Study done by the Pew Research Center finds Drop in Black – American Prison Population

For a long time, black people made up the majority of prisoners in U.S prison; there has been a significant decline in the number of black people in jail in recent years which has narrowed the gap.

Key points

At the end of 2016, the federal-state prisons in the U.S. held about 486,900 black prisoners and 439,800 where white. Representing a difference of 47,100, In 2009 there were 584,800 blacks and 490,00 whites, in prison which was a difference of 94,800. The analysis only counts for prisoners that where sentenced to more than a year in jail.
• The reduction in the black-white gap between 2009 and 2016 was driven by a 17% decrease in the number of black inmates during that period.
• The difference between white and Hispanics people in prison also reduced in the same period; this is not because of the reduction in Hispanic prisoners. Instead, the number of white prisoners fell while the numbers of Hispanic prisoners remained flat
• The overall racial and ethnic makeup in the US prison continues to look substantially different from the demographics of the country.
• 12% of the adult US population were black, but 33% of the sentenced in 2016.
• White accounted for 64% of the adults but 30% of the prisoners.
• Overall for all the three racial groups, imprisonment rates have declined since 2009, the rates have decreased by 25% among blacks, 11% among whites and 19% among Hispanics

According to the New York Times, the decline in incarceration rates was most seen in black women. Black women are five times more than white than women to be incarcerated. The drop in incarceration cannot be put on one factor, experts in the field reckon this is as a result of to the way drug-related offenses are policed and prosecuted. Other possible reasons could be decreasing rates for blacks in prison. Also, the rising number of white serving mandatory sentencing for methamphetamine abuse, social economic shifts have dispassionately affected white women. For black women, the drop in interaction compared to white women is all due to drug offenses.

Alfred Blumstein an expert in criminal justice sais “A Major contributor has been the intensity of incarceration for drug offending, and that reached a peak with very long sentences we gave out for crack offenders, stimulated in large part with the violence that was going on the crack markets.” But crack cocaine is a lot less of a problem in recent years, and this is reflected in the revision of the federal sentencing laws. Inmates serving time for crack offenses are now being released from jail, that is why there is a disproportionate exodus of black from prison which is reflected in the reduction in the incarceration ratio.

I should point though that despite the drop in the black prison population, the figures have to be viewed within the broader context of the American population. Black people make up 13% of the total US population but makeup 38% of the adult US population. This is according to figures from the federal Bureau of Prisons released last November. Another point to consider is that despite black people only making 13% of the total population they also commit most of the crimes. According to FBI report in 2013, 38% of the murders were committed by black people compared to 31.1 percent. As for violent crimes between 2011 and 2013, 38 percent of the people arrested for murder, rape, manslaughter and aggravated assault were mostly black.

There are a number of factors that have been given for this, for example, societal inequalities and fatherlessness. Studies have shown that children from single-parent homes commit more crime that children from intact families. Fatherless children are more likely to do drugs and drop out of school (Antecol & Bedard, 2007).  Societal inequalities exist, in every race and ethnicity, but in America, there is also hope, there is a chance that if individual works hard they will succeed. It is not like America is like the Congo, where the whole country is in ruins for the top to bottom.

And then there is racism; while it is true that individuals within the system can be racists, there is no evidence that the whole system is designed to oppress one group of people, that why civil right laws were passed. If the system were oppressive, then only white people would get ahead, some of the most successful people in American are Asians. The income for Asians was $68,636 in 2012. I find it hard to believe that White people created laws that favor Asians at their own expense. Another reason systematic racism does not hold up is the success of African immigrants. Most immigrants that migrate to the U.S. do so to get an education, a high number of them have college degrees and even masters, and they have higher percentages of entrepreneurs.

In conclusion, while racism and inequalities exist and there now sufficient evidence that they contribute to crime. There is still a lot of opportunities in America for people to succeed.

Photo was taken from here 


Antecol, H., & Bedard, K. (2007). Does single parenthood increase the probability of teenage promiscuity, substance use, and crime?. Journal of Population Economics20(1), 55-71.

Fergusson, D. M., Boden, J. M., & Horwood, L. J. (2007). Exposure to single parenthood in childhood and later mental health, educational, economic, and criminal behavior outcomes. Archives of general psychiatry64(9), 1089-1095.