Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic about the skewed color line of American incarcerations:

Of the 2.3 million people in American jails, 806,000 are black males. African-Americans–males and females–make up .6 percent of the entire world’s population, but African-American males–alone–make up 8 percent of the entire world’s prison population. I know there are people who think some kind of demon culture could create a world where a group that makes up roughly one in 200 citizens of the world, comprises one in 12 of its prisoners. But I kind of doubt it.

Here are the details of the study Ta-Nehis quotes from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  The numbers are numbing and fascinating in their cruel precision.

Black males ages 30 to 34 had the highest custody incarceration rate of any race, age, or gender group Of the 2.3 million inmates in custody, 2.1 million were men and 208,300 were women. Black males represented the largest percentage (35.4%) of inmates held in custody, followed by white males (32.9%) and Hispanic males (17.9%). Over a third (33.8%) of the total male custody population was ages 20 to 29.

The largest percentage of black (35.5%) and Hispanic (39.9%) males held in custody were ages 20 to 29. White males ages 35 to 44 accounted for the largest percentage (30.1%) of the white male custody population. The largest percentage (35.9%) of the female custody population was ages 30 to 39. Over a third of white females (35.9%) were ages 30 and 39. The largest percentage (36.8%) of Hispanic females in custody was ages 20 to 29. The custody incarceration rate for black males was 4,618 per 100,000.

Hispanic males were incarcerated at a rate of 1,747 per 100,000. Compared to the estimated numbers of black, white, and Hispanic males in the U.S. resident population, black males (6 times) and Hispanic males (a little more than 2 times) were more likely to be held in custody than white males. At midyear 2007 the estimated incarceration rate of white males was 773 per 100,000. Across all age categories, black males were incarcerated at higher rates than white or Hispanic males. Black males ages 30 to 34 had the highest custody incarceration rate of any race, age, or gender group at midyear 2007.

Are Blacks really breaking the law more than Whites?  Or are Blacks just getting prosecuted more harshly than Whites for the same crimes?

Will justice always divide us along a color line?  Or will the application of justice truly be blind in the future?

Can we ever remove Race from the crime conversation and the penalty phase of creating a societal harmonic?  Or have we already given up on the harder path of diving truth from circumstance and cleaving injustice from protection?


  1. It’s similar to “Missing White Girl Syndrome” where a white girl goes missing and there is a frenzy in the media, whereas a black girl can go missing and get nearly no attention from the media.

    The evidence from this study seems damning.


    after controlling for the offense level, criminal history,
    district, and offense type, blacks, Hispanics, and others received sentences 5.5,
    4.5, and 2.3 months longer than whites, respectively, and females received 5.5
    fewer months than males. All of these results are significant at the .01 level. The
    average sentence length is 46 months, so evaluated at the mean, blacks receive
    about 12 percent longer terms than whites, and males receive 12 percent longer
    terms than females.

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