Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jul 2001
Source: The Herald-Sun (NC)
Copyright: 2001 The Herald-Sun
Author: Genaro C Armas (Associated Press)
Bookmark: Racial Issues


WASHINGTON -- Black Americans comprise a greater share of prison 
inmates than they do in the overall population of at least 29 states, 
new census data show.

It is a long-held phenomenon that analysts trace in part to raw 
arrest figures. Separate data from the FBI show that blacks are 
arrested at rates far higher than their national population 

Civil rights advocates and critics of the criminal justice system 
also point to what they call historic racial inequities in how police 
and prosecutors fight crime, including racial profiling.

"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 

The percentage of African Americans in correctional institutions was 
higher than the percentage of blacks in the total population for the 
29 states and the District of Columbia for which such census data is 

In data released Wednesday for South Carolina, 68 percent of men 
between the ages of 18 and 64 in correctional institutions were 
African American. Blacks made up 27 percent of the state's total 
population in the same age group.

In West Virginia, blacks made up 44 percent of the female inmates 
ages 18 to 64. Blacks were 3 percent of the total female population 
in the same age range.

The reverse was true for non-Hispanic whites in nearly all states. 
For example, non-Hispanic white men made up 29 percent of South 
Carolina inmates between 18 and 64. Non-Hispanic whites were 68 
percent of all men between 18 and 64 in the state.

Joshua Marquis is district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore. and a 
member of the National District Attorney Association. While "there is 
no doubt that residual racism" exists in the justice system, court 
systems have gone through enormous lengths to eliminate bias, Marquis 

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 population.

Often overlooked are socio-economic factors correlated to race, said 
Marquis and others associated with the criminal justice system.

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.

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

More courts that focus on rehabilitation and treatment rather than 
prison time for drug-related offenses are also necessary, Shelton 

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

National census data on the topic is not yet available, but 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.

- --Non-Hispanic whites were 41.9 percent of jail inmates in 2000, up 
slightly from 41.8 percent a decade ago.

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 associated more with violent crimes than the powdered cocaine 
prevalent in white suburbs.

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