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«This PDF is available from The National Academies Press at The Growth of Incarceration in the United ...»

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over the entire period for which race-specific incarceration rates are available. Although the disparity had declined from its peak in the early 1990s, it was still very large—of a magnitude that exceeds racial differences for many other common social indicators. For example, black-white ratios for indicators as varied as wealth, employment, poverty, and infant mortality are significantly smaller than the 4.6 to 1 ratio in imprisonment (Beck and Blumstein, 2012; Western, 2006).

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FIGURE 2-12 Average percentage of blacks among total arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape, and aggravated assault, by decade, 1972 to 2011.

SOURCE: Uniform Crime Reports race-specific arrest rates, 1972 to 2011.

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Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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accounted for about 54 percent of all homicide arrests; by the 2000s, that share had fallen below half. For robbery, blacks accounted for 55 percent of arrests in the 1970s, falling to 52 percent by the 2000s. For rape, blacks accounted for about 46 percent of all arrests in the 1970s, declining by 14 percentage points to 32 percent by the 2000s. The declining share of blacks in violent arrests also is marked for aggravated assaults, which constitute a large majority of violent serious crimes: 41 percent in the 1970s and just 33 percent in the 2000s.

These figures show that arrests of blacks for violent crimes constitute smaller percentages of absolute national numbers that are less than half what they were 20 or 30 years ago (Tonry and Melewski, 2008). Violent crime has been falling in the United States since 1991. In absolute terms, involvement of blacks in violent crime has followed the general pattern;

in relative terms, it has fallen substantially more than the overall averages.

Yet even though participation of blacks in serious violent crimes has declined significantly, disparities in imprisonment between blacks and whites have not fallen by much; as noted earlier, the incarceration rate for nonHispanic black males remains seven times that of non-Hispanic whites.

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Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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As the white prison population has come to include more Hispanics, the raw black-white disparity in incarceration has tended to shrink because of the relatively high incarceration rate among Hispanics. An alternative approach that separates race and ethnicity entails studying incarceration among Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks and whites. Most published data on incarceration trends distinguish racial groups but not ethnicities. The data reviewed earlier on prison admission and imprisonment rates by race were taken from the National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) Series, an annual survey of state and federal departments of correction conducted by BJS. The NPS survey was first administered in 1926 and has gathered counts of the prison populations by race and sex. Data on Hispanics have been collected since 1974 in the BJS Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities and since 1972 in the Survey of Inmates in Local Jails. Data also are available from the decennial census, which collects information on the entire U.S.

population, including information on national origins and, for immigrants, country of birth. By combining NPS counts with survey data, BJS has constructed state and federal imprisonment rates for Hispanics since 2000, and rates can be constructed back to 1990 using the BJS methods (Guerino et al., 2011; Beck and Blumstein, 2012). With additional assumptions about the Hispanic fraction of the federal prison population (which is never more than about 10 percent of the total prison population), estimates of the prison and jail incarceration rates for Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites, and non-Hispanic blacks can be constructed for the entire period of the growth in incarceration from 1972 to 2010 (see Appendix B).

Figure 2-14 reports incarceration rates separately for Hispanics, nonHispanic whites, and non-Hispanic blacks aged 18 to 64. These age-specific incarceration rates account usefully for differences in the age distribution among the three race-ethnicity groups, adjusting for the relative youth of the black and Hispanic populations. The series before 1990 are represented by dashed lines indicating estimates based on 1991 surveys of federal prisoners.

Hispanic incarceration rates fall between the rates for non-Hispanic blacks and whites. Over the period of the growth in incarceration rates, the rate has been two to three times higher for Hispanics than for non-Hispanic whites. From 1972 to 1990, the Hispanic rate grew strongly along with incarceration in the rest of the population. Through the 1990s, the Hispanic rate remained roughly flat at around 1,800 per 100,000 of the population aged 18 to 64. Since 2000, the incarceration rate for Hispanics has fallen from 1,820 to just under 1,500.





The Hispanic population itself is heterogeneous, including U.S. citizens and noncitizens and a large number of different national origins. Ruben Rumbaut has explored variation in incarceration within the Hispanic population, relying mainly on census data and survey data on the immigrant Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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population (Rumbaut and Ewing, 2007; Rumbaut, 2009). Rumbaut finds that incarceration rates (and arrest rates) for the immigrant population are relatively low given their poverty rates and education. The highest incarceration rates are found among long-standing national groups—Puerto Ricans and Cubans. For national groups with large shares of recent immigrants—Guatemalans and Salvadorans for example—incarceration rates are very low. The largest national group, Mexicans, includes significant native-born and foreign-born populations. The incarceration rate indicated in the 2000 census is more than five times higher for native-born U.S. citizens of Mexican descent than for U.S. immigrants born in Mexico. In fact, U.S.born Mexicans have higher incarceration rates than any other U.S.-born Hispanic group (Rumbaut, 2009). Overall, the incarceration rate for those of Mexican origin is lower than that for either Puerto Ricans or Cubans.

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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This discussion of incarceration of Hispanics has been limited to those in prisons or local jails, and does not encompass immigrant detention outside of those institutions. There is evidence that the latter form of detention has increased significantly in the past decade in specialized immigrant detention facilities (Dingeman and Rumbaut, 2010; Meissner et al., 2013;

National Research Council, 2011, Chapter 4), but this type of incarceration lies beyond the committee’s charge.

CONCENTRATION OF INCARCERATION BY AGE,

SEX, RACE/ETHNICITY, AND EDUCATION

Although racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration are very large, differences by age, sex, and education are even larger. The combined effects of racial and education disparities have produced extraordinarily high incarceration rates among young minority men with little schooling. The age and gender composition of the incarcerated population has changed since the early 1970s, but the broader demographic significance of the penal system lies in the very high rate of incarceration among prime-age men. The prison population also has aged as time served in prison has increased, but 60 percent of all prisoners still were under age 40 in 2011 (Sykes, 2013).

Incarceration rates have increased more rapidly for females than for males since the early 1970s. In 1972, the prison and jail incarceration rate for men was estimated to be 24 times higher than that for women. By 2010, men’s incarceration rate was about 11 times higher. Women’s incarceration rate had thus risen twice as rapidly as men’s in the period of growing incarceration rates. Yet despite the rapid growth in women’s incarceration, only 7 percent of all sentenced state and federal prisoners were female by 2011 (Carson and Sabol, 2012, Table 5). In comparison, 13 percent of local jail populations were women by that year (Maguire, n.d., Table 7.17.2011).

The racial disparity in incarceration for women is similar to that seen for men. As with the trends for men, the very high rate of incarceration for African American women fell relative to the rate for white women, although the 3 to 1 black-white disparity in women’s imprisonment in 2009 was still substantial (Mauer, 2013).

Figure 2-15 shows estimates of prison and jail incarceration rates for male non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics aged 20 to 39 in 1972 and in 2010. For these series, we used survey data to calculate incarceration by different levels of schooling; we also used information on self-reported ethnicity in surveys dating from the early 1970s to separate Hispanics from non-Hispanic blacks and whites (see Appendix B). For each racial and ethnic group, the incarceration rate is shown for those with at least some college education, for those with no college education (including high school graduates and high school dropouts), and for those who had not Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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completed high school or received a general equivalency diploma (GED).

From 1972 to 2010, the U.S. population’s educational attainment, including levels of college attendance, increased. In particular, high school dropout rates declined substantially over this period, so the high school dropouts of 2010 are likely to be a narrower and certainly more educationally disadvantaged population than those who dropped out in 1972. Still, the proportions of college attendees and those with no college education in the population remained more stable than the proportion of high school dropouts over this period.

Extremely high incarceration rates had emerged among prime-age noncollege men by 2010 (see Figure 2-15). Around 4 percent of noncollege white men and a similar proportion of noncollege Hispanic men in this age group were incarcerated in 2010. The education gradient is especially

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significant for African Americans. Among prime-age black men, around 15 percent of those with no college and fully a third of high school dropouts were incarcerated on an average day in 2010. Thus at the height of the prison boom in 2010, the incarceration rate for all African Americans is estimated to be 1,300 per 100,000. For black men under age 40 who had dropped out of high school, the incarceration rate is estimated to be more than 25 times higher, at 35,000 per 100,000.

Educational inequalities in incarceration rates have increased since 1972 (see Figure 2-15). Incarceration rates have barely increased among those who have attended college; nearly all the growth in incarceration is concentrated among those with no college education. Some may argue that the rise in incarceration rates is related to increased selectivity, as the noncollege group shrank as a fraction of the population. The noncollege group may have been less able to work and more prone to crime in 2010 compared with 1972. Still, any such selection effect may have been somewhat offset by rising educational attainment in the noncollege population. Higher rates of high school graduation increased the schooling of those without college, perhaps negating the criminal propensity of the low-educated population.

Although it is difficult to say precisely how much of the rising educational inequality in incarceration is due to shifts in selectivity, the statistics clearly show that prison time has become common for men with little schooling.

Educational disparities also shed light on the relatively high level of incarceration among Hispanics. Hispanics are incarcerated at a lower rate than non-Hispanic whites at every level of education. Because Hispanics— and new immigrants in particular—tend to have very low levels of education, there are relatively more Hispanics than whites in the high incarceration group of those with less than a high school education.

The statistics discussed above are for incarceration rates at a single point in time. BJS developed estimates of the lifetime probabilities of imprisonment for men and women in different racial and ethnic groups (Bonczar and Beck, 1997; Bonczar, 2003). Those estimates assume a stable underlying rate of prison admission for all the birth cohorts in prison at a given time. Pettit and Western (2004; Western, 2006; Western and Wildeman, 2009; Pettit, 2012) developed this work further, estimating cumulative risks of imprisonment for men and women in different birth cohorts and at different levels of education. These estimates show how the experience of imprisonment has become more prevalent for successive cohorts as the incarceration rate has risen.

It is instructive to compare the risks of imprisonment by age 30-35 for men in two birth cohorts: the first born in 1945-1949, just before the great increase in incarceration rates, and the second born in the late 1970s, growing up through the period of high incarceration rates (see Figure 2-16).

Because most of those who go to prison do so for the first time before Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

–  –  –

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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