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U.S.: Incarceration Rates Reveal Striking Racial Disparities

(New York, February 27, 2002) -- Human Rights Watch today released the first state-by-state incarceration rates for whites, blacks and Latinos based on actual correctional facility counts. The figures, compiled from census data for the year 2000, reveal the high percentage of blacks that are behind bars and dramatic racial disparities in the incarcerated population.

" It is astonishing that in some states, one in ten black men is behind bars. "
Jamie Fellner  
Director, U.S. Program
  

Related Material

Race and Incarceration in the United States
Background Briefing, February 27, 2002

Drugs and Human Rights in the United States
Campaign Document, July 1, 2001

Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs
Report, May 1, 2000

"This data demonstrates clearly the marked racial disparities in the US prison population," said Jamie Fellner, Human Rights Watch's US program director. "It is astonishing that in some states, one in ten black men is behind bars."  
 
Among the findings:  
     
  • Blacks and Hispanics make up 62 percent of the incarcerated population, though comprising only 25 percent of the national population;  
     
  • Between ten and fifteen percent of black men are incarcerated in twelve states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming);  
     
  • Black women are incarcerated at rates between ten and thirty-five times greater than the rates of white women in fifteen states (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming); and  
     
  • Hispanic youth are incarcerated at rates seven to seventeen times greater than those of whites in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, while the incarceration rate for black youth is between twelve and twenty-five times greater than those of whites in Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, and New Jersey.
 
The figures compiled by Human Rights Watch include racial breakdowns for each state of the percentage of adults incarcerated; the percentage of men aged 18-64 incarcerated; the percentage of women aged 18-64 incarcerated; the percentage of juveniles incarcerated; the percentage of juveniles in detention; and the percentage of state population versus incarcerated population.  
 
"There are striking differences among the states in terms of racial disparities," said Fellner. "States need to look at their policies to figure out what is causing the problem."  
 
The U.S. Census Bureau, as part of the census, compiles figures on the number, race, and age of persons confined in state, federal, local and other correctional institutions and facilities in each state. Human Rights Watch used these figures and census population data for state residents to derive rates of incarceration by race for each state.

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