As With Prison, Whites are Going to Jail More, Blacks Less

Last week I published a piece in Washington Post showing that from 2000-2014, the African-American imprisonment rate had fallen and the non-Hispanic White rate had risen. Several people contacted me to say that if I had looked at jails, the picture would have been different. So I did that, and things in fact look the same. This chart is from the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of jails.


From 2000 to 2014, the African-American population grew by over 7.5 million but the number of African-Americans in jail barely budged, dropping the African-American rate of being in jail by 18% (quite similar to the drop in the imprisonment rate). Again, as with the prison data, non-Hispanic whites are going in the opposite direction: Their rate of being in jail rose by 16%.

In short, if you broaden the lens of analysis from prisons to include jails, the patterns I wrote about are even stronger: Being behind bars is becoming a less common experience for African-Americans and a more common experience for non-Hispanic Whites.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.