Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jul 2001
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Houston Chronicle
Author:  Associated Press
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


WASHINGTON -- Blacks make up a disproportionate share of inmates in 
America's prisons and jails, including 68 percent of male inmates in South 
Carolina and 44 percent of the women in West Virginia's prison population, 
new census figures show.

It is a phenomenon that can be traced in part to raw arrest figures -- 
blacks are arrested at rates far higher than their national population 

The trend was evident in data available so far for 29 states and the 
District of Columbia. According to data being released today, blacks made 
up 27 percent of South Carolina's total population of men 18 to 64, the age 
group counted in the prison population.

In West Virginia, blacks were 3 percent of the state's total population of 
women in the same age group.

Earlier 2000 Census figures showed that more than 12 percent of the 
country's 281 million people were black.

Data compiled by the FBI from more than 8,500 police agencies show that 
blacks were the subject of 29 percent of arrests in 1999.

Whites were the subject of 69 percent of arrests in 1999, according to the 
FBI; the 2000 Census showed whites made up about 75 percent of the total 

Undoubtedly, there are inherent racial biases that play into the criminal 
justice system, said Fritz Rauschenberg, research director of the Ohio 
Criminal Sentencing Commission.

But sometimes overlooked are other socioeconomic factors that often 
correlate to race, he said. For instance, crimes tend to be committed more 
by poorer people and in urban areas. Historically, minorities tend to have 
higher rates of poverty and live in cities more.

And, it is in those urban areas where law enforcement efforts, especially 
against drugs, are concentrated, Rauschenberg said.

"Part of it is that we are nervous of people who look different from us," 
said Jenni Gainsborough, senior policy analyst at The Sentencing Project 
advocacy group. "But there is no simple answer to this question."

Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the National 
Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he believes the 
disparities can eventually be narrowed, but only after problems such as 
racial profiling are resolved.

Also necessary are more courts that focus on rehabilitation and treatment 
rather than prison time for drug-related offenses, Shelton said.

Many advocacy groups have long contended that inner-city black drug 
offenders do not have the money to afford quality legal representation, 
drug treatment, and other programs that white suburban offenders can afford.

"Our prison population has the tendency to be African-American, poor and 
undereducated," Shelton said. "And it's worsened in the last 15 years."

Though national census data on the topic are not yet available, Justice 
Department figures released earlier this year showed similar trends:

Non-Hispanic blacks were 42.3 percent of all local jail inmates in June 
2000, down slightly from 42.5 percent in 1990. By comparison, non-Hispanic 
whites were 41.9 percent of jail inmates in 2000, up slightly from 41.87 
percent a decade ago.

791,600 black males were incarcerated in June 2000, a new high. Nearly one 
in eight black males age 20 to 34 was in prison on any given day.

While crime rates have fallen the last decade, the total number of people 
incarcerated in the United States has risen steadily to a record high of 
1.9 million people in 2000, the Justice report said.

That's because of tougher drug sentencing laws that have kept offenders 
behind bars for longer periods of time, said Alfred Blumstein, a criminal 
justice professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Since the 1980s, anti-drug activities have tended to focus on crack 
cocaine, which is more prevalent in the inner city. Crack cocaine is also 
more associated with violent crimes than the powdered cocaine prevalent in 
white suburbs.

"Most charging decisions are done very quickly, where that racial 
information isn't necessary," said Joshua Marquis, director of Oregon's 
District Attorney Association. But, "there is no doubt that there is 
residual racism."

The 2000 Census data for blacks referred only to those Americans who 
selected just one race on their census form.
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