The total prison population has declined by 25% after reaching its peak in 2009, but the Black prison population has notably downsized the most, according to a new report.
Over the past two decades, reforms of the past have reduced some of the burdens of this nation’s criminal legal system and its racial disparities. While all major racial and ethnic groups experienced decarceration, the number of imprisoned Black Americans decreased 39% since 2002, said researchers from The Sentencing Project.
“Reforms to drug law enforcement and to sentencing for drug and property offenses, particularly those impacting urban areas which are disproportionately home to communities of color, have fueled decarceration and narrowed racial disparities,” researchers wrote.
For instance, the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for Black men fell from 1 in 3 for those born in 1981 to 1 in 5 for Black men born in 2001. The number remains four times that of their white counterparts. Black women’s rate of imprisonment has also been on a decline, though it is 1.6 times the rate of white women in 2021.
Despite the progress, national and local politics have resumed the politicization of crime and drug policies. And the prison industrial complex overwhelmingly falls on Black communities. The report predicts a long journey to ending mass incarceration, citing that progress in reducing racial disparity in the criminal legal system is at risk of being reversed. The current pace of decarceration is averaging 2.3% annually since 2009, and would take 75 years to return to 1972’s prison population.
“The declines that we have seen do not match the significant increases that got us here, so there is still so much work to be done,” Sydney McKinney, executive director of the Black Women’s Justice Institute, told The 19th News. “Incarceration increased 700 percent since the 1970s, and now we’re seeing a 70 percent decline, which is not bringing us back to the levels we saw during the late ’80s and early ’70s.”
Imprisonment: Black women have experienced the most dramatic decline in imprisonment—70%—between 2000 and 2021. The imprisonment rate of Black men also declined substantially, falling by almost half.
Prison population: Between 1999 and 2020, when New York more than halved its prison population, the state’s violent crime rate fell by 38% while the U.S. violent crime rate fell by 24%. Correctional facilities in various states have shut down as a result.
Jail population: Though on a decline, high jail populations are still prevalent for Black communities. New York City has dramatically reduced its jail incarceration rate and still found that 27% of Black men and 16% of Latinx men, in contrast to only three percent of white men, had been in jail by age 38 in 2017.
Community supervision: The population serving probation and parole has reached 3.7 million in 2021, down from a peak of 5.1 million in 2007. These community supervision levels have declined for most racial and ethnic groups. But in 2021, people of color represented 62% of the population serving a probation or parole sentence, although they comprised 41% of the U.S. population. On July 1, 2022, Florida passed a milestone criminal justice reform bill to shorten probation sentences by offering educational resources and awarding long-term employment.
Youth incarceration: The number of youths held in juvenile justice facilities fell by 77%—from 109,000 in 2000 to 25,000 in 2020. In 2015, Black youth were five times as likely as white youth to be incarcerated. By 2019, the number of Black youth incarcerated dropped to 4.4 times that of their white peers.
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Source: Black Enterprise