Incarceration Rate for Black Women Dropped Sharply in Last Decade

No single factor can explain the change, according to the Sentencing Project.

Posted: 02/28/2013 11:09 AM EST

The incarceration rate of African-American women has decreased sharply between 2000 and 2009, according to a new study by the Sentencing Project called "The Changing Racial Dynamics of Women's Incarceration."

“Normally, these things don’t change very dramatically over a one-decade period,” Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, told The New York Times

In 2000, Black women were incarcerated at six times the rate of white women. But in 2009, that percentage dropped to less than three times of white women. Black men were incarcerated at 7.7 times the rate of white men in 2000 and by 2009 the disparity fell to 6.4 times. 

The New York Times reports:

But the trend is clear, Mr. Mauer said, adding that no single factor could explain the shifting figures but that changes in drug laws and sentencing for drug offenses probably played a large role. Other possible contributors included decreasing arrest rates for Blacks, the rising number of whites and Hispanics serving mandatory sentences for methamphetamine abuse, and socioeconomic shifts that have disproportionately affected white women.

Alfred Blumstein, an expert on the criminal justice system at Carnegie Mellon University, said his own findings from research he conducted with Allen J. Beck of the Bureau of Justice Statistics also indicated that the rate of incarceration for Blacks was declining compared with that for whites.

“A major contributor has been the intensity of incarceration for drug offending,” Dr. Blumstein said, “and that reached a peak with the very long sentences we gave out for crack offenders, stimulated in large part by the violence that was going on in the crack markets.”

Read full story here.

Racial disparities in the prison system are still an issue. While whites are 78.1 percent of the U.S. population and make up 34 percent of state and federal prisons, Blacks are 13.1 percent of the U.S. population and are 38 percent of the prison population.

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 (Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

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