Why Are There So Many African Americans In U.S. Prisons?


The number of black men serving time in American prisons is staggering. Studies show that compared to other racial groups, African Americans are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for the same offenses as are whites.

Blacks are about 13 percent of the overall U.S. population. But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BOJ) reports, “In 2014, 6% of all black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison, compared to 2% of Hispanic and 1% of white males in the same age group.” The BOJ projects that that one in three black men can expect to be incarcerated during his lifetime.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) estimates that: African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites . In another report by Huffington Post, more African American men are incarcerated in the United States than the combined prison population of several other countries

In one publication by The Sentencing Project,  it noted that: “Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.” The report adds: “African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.” In the light of these startling variance in incarceration rates, the report concluded that “The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities.”

A Department of Justice statistics on racial profiling found that blacks and Hispanics were three times as likely to be searched during a traffic stop, blacks were twice as likely to be arrested 

One of the main reasons for the wide racial disparity in the prison population in the America over the decades is the result of stricter drug law enforcement policies that has led to more arrest and imprisonment rates for African Americans and Hispanics. Even though surveys show that whites and African American use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates, the report indicate that blacks are more likely to be arrested for drug offenses because of racial profiling and heavy police presence in black urban communities compared to white neighborhoods.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project and David Cole, a constitutional law expert at the Georgetown University Law Center, in their Washington Post essay, “Five myths about incarceration,” opined that “police find drugs where they look for them.”

Under the present dispensation, meaningful reform is required to address the systemic problem of injustice in the U.S legal system. Reform effort should involve changes in policy and practices in the modus operandi of the law enforcement agencies. Above all, legislators should take a hard look at the numerous laws and regulations that ensnare its people and ascertain whether they conform to the norms of civilized society.

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