40 reasons Blacks and the poor are incarcerated

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BILL QUIGLEY
GUEST COMMENTATOR

Editor’s note: This is Part 5. Other reasons will be listed in upcoming weeks.

24. Poor people get jail, and jail makes people worse off. The poorest people, those who had to remain in jail since their arrest, were four times more likely to receive a prison sentence than those who got out on bail. There are tens of thousands of rapes inside jails and prisons each year. The Department of Justice reports more than 4,000 inmates are murdered inside each year. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy told Congress recently, “This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working. And it’s not humane. We [society and Congress and the legal profession] have no interest in corrections; nobody looks at it.”

25. Average prison sentences are much longer than they used to be, especially for people of color. Since 1990, the average time for property crimes has gone up 24 percent, and time for drug crimes has gone up 36 percent. In the U.S. federal system, nearly 75 percent of the people sent to prison for drug offenses are Black or Latino.

26. There is about a 70 percent chance that an African-American man without a high school diploma will be imprisoned by the time he reaches his mid-thirties; the rate for White males without a high school diploma is 53 percent lower. In the 1980s, there was only an 8 percent difference. In New York City, for example, Blacks are jailed at nearly 12 times the rate of Whites and Latinos more than five times the rate of Whites.

27. Almost 1 of 12 Black men ages 25 to 54 are in jail or prison, compared to 1 in 60 non-Black men. That is 600,000 African-American men – an imprisonment rate of five times that of White men.

28. Prison has become a very big private business. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) owns and runs 67 for-profit jails in 20 states with more than 90,000 beds. Along with GEO (formerly Wackenhut), these two private prison companies have donated more than $10 million to candidates and spent another $25 million lobbying, according to the Washington Post. They lobby for more incarceration and have doubled the number of prisoners they hold over the past ten years.

29. The Sentencing Project reports that over 159,000 people are serving life sentences in the U.S. Nearly half are African-American, and 1 in 6 are Latino. The number of people serving life in prison has gone up by more than 400 percent since 1984. Nearly 250,000 prisoners in the U.S. are over age 50.

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

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