40 reasons Blacks and the poor are incarcerated


Editor’s note: This is Part 2. Other reasons will be listed in upcoming weeks.

6. Traffic tickets are big business. And even if most people do not go directly to jail for traffic tickets, poor people are hit the worst by these ticket systems. As we saw with Ferguson where some of the towns in St. Louis receive 40 percent or more of their city revenues from traffic tickets, tickets are moneymakers for towns.

7. The consequences of traffic tickets are much more severe among poor people. People with means will just pay the fines. But for poor and working people, fines are a real hardship. For example, over 4 million people in California do not have valid driver’s licenses because they have unpaid fines and fees for traffic tickets. And we know unpaid tickets can lead to jail.

8. In schools, African-American kids are much more likely to be referred to the police than other kids. African-American students are 16 percent of those enrolled in schools, but 27 percent of those referred to the police. Kids with disabilities are discriminated against at about the same rate because they are 14 percent of those enrolled in school and 26 of those referred to the police.

9. Though Black people make up about 12 percent of the US population, Black children are 28 percent of juvenile arrests. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that there are over 57,000 people under the age of 21 in juvenile detention. The US has 10,000 children in adult jails and prisons any given day.

10. The War on Drugs targets Black people. Drug arrests are a big source of bodies and business for the criminal legal system.  Half the arrests these days are for drugs and half of those are for marijuana.

Despite the fact that Blacks and Whites use marijuana at the same rates, a Black person is 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a White person. The ACLU found that in some states Black people were six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Whites.

For all drug arrests between 1980 and 2000, the U.S. Black drug arrest rate rose dramatically from 6.5 to 29.1 per 1,000 persons; during the same period, the White drug arrest rate barely increased from 3.5 to 4.6 per 1,000 persons.

11. Many people are in jail and prison because the US has much tougher drug laws and much longer sentences for drug offenses than most other countries. Drug offenders receive an average sentence of 7 months in France, twelve months in England and 23 months in the US.

12. The bail system penalizes poor people. Every day there are about 500,000 people are in jails, who are still presumed innocent and awaiting trial, just because they are too poor to pay money to get out on bail. Not too long ago, judges used to allow most people, even poor people, to be free while they were awaiting trial – but no more.

In a 2013 study of New York City courts, more than 50 percent of the people held in jail awaiting trial for misdemeanor or felony charges were unable to pay bail amounts of $2,500 or less.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor.


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