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Apparently Black Americans have experienced a “decline” in incarceration rates over the past decade. This was reported in a New York Times article by Erica Goode. Goode cites Mark Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, who researched the phenomenon. Goode states that according to Mauer “no single factor could explain the shifting figures but that changes in drug laws and sentencing for drug offenses probably played a large role.”

The article goes on to describe “ratios” and an “exodus” of Blacks who were incarcerated for crack related offenses. Basically, Black people, Black women in particular, are not being incarcerated at the same rates we were 10 years ago.

From the New York Times:

The decline in incarceration rates was most striking for black women, dropping 30.7 percent over the ten-year period. In 2000, black women were imprisoned at six times the rate of white women; by 2009, they were 2.8 times more likely to be in prison. For black men, the rate of imprisonment decreased by 9.8 percent; in 2000 they were incarcerated at 7.7 times the rate of white men, a rate that fell to 6.4 times that of white men by 2009.

For white men and women, however, incarceration rates increased over the same period, rising 47.1 percent for white women and 8.5 percent for white men. By the end of the decade, Hispanic men were slightly less likely to be in prison, a drop of 2.2 percent, but Hispanic women were imprisoned more frequently, an increase of 23.3 percent.

Over all, blacks currently make up about 38 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons; whites account for about 34 percent.

More than 100,000 women are currently incarcerated in state or federal prisons. The overall rate of incarceration varies widely from state to state, as does the ratio of blacks to whites and Hispanics.

But the trend is clear, Mr. Mauer said, adding that no single factor could explain the shifting figures but that changes in drug laws and sentencing for drug offenses probably played a large role. Other possible contributors included decreasing arrest rates for blacks, the rising number of whites and Hispanics serving mandatory sentences for methamphetamine abuse, and socioeconomic shifts that have disproportionately affected white women.

Unless you happen to delight in the misfortune of people who don’t look like you, this isn’t really good news. First, when words like “ratio” get thrown in the mix, it’s pretty much an indication that Blacks are only comparatively declining in incarceration rates and not necessarily absolutely. Secondly, the fact that this country is still criminalizing drug addiction but is merely focusing on different drugs (Goode mentions whites getting methamphetamine charges and glaringly leaves out the booming business of prescription drug abuse that often involves forging of prescriptions and illegal sale of drugs often prescribed under extremely shady circumstances) is indicative of some deeper social and economic ills that won’t likely be cured by locking people up.

I’ve always been a fan of dystopian literature and movies because the future societies described almost always treat their citizens the way Blacks have been and continue to be treated in this country. The inevitable outcome is that eventually everyone gets a boot in the face.  So now that the boot is lifted from the faces of Black people, it’s now landed on the White and Latino population.

Equality, gotta love it. But it still goes to show the United State’s prison system is one big money earning monopoly and its cash cow will always be drugs.

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  • Ask a Criminologist…that’s all.

    • victoria

      No, not that’s all… explain.

    • In the New York times article they speak of the sentencing disparity between crack and other drugs and attribute it to violence rather than race. There is a fundamental problem in just saying I don’t know when there are people who make it their career to know. I wrote a dissertation on mass incarceration. Todd Clear, the president of ASC focuses on mass incarceration. John Simon died writing about the injustice and atrocities of warehousing human being. The list of people who could have answered this journalist’s questions is endless. Hell, my cohort at Mississippi State could have answered this question.

    • Anon

      No one asked a question in the above post.

    • @Anon I’m referring to the “nobody knows why” statement. They could ask this paper’s author for example:

      https://drive.google.com/?tab=co&authuser=0#search/west

    • camille

      I’m not seeing a “nobody knows why” but, rather an indication that multiple factors are involved with issues around drugs being central

  • Right

    Most of the gains are because of skewed Population numbers.

  • I’ll take it.

    • Mademoiselle

      Me too. This made me happy to read.

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