Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jim Crow

After years of working on issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and drug-law enforcement in poor communities of color as well as working with former inmates struggling to "re-enter" a society that never seemed to have much use for them, I began to suspect that I was wrong about the criminal-justice system. . . . Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States has, in fact, emerged as a comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow. [emphasis added]

That’s from a book by Michelle Alexander that you can read about here.

But what about Minnesota?

However, the rate of racial disparity in Minnesota’s custody populations (as measured by the ratio of the Black per capita incarceration rate to the White rate) is among the highest in the nation. Four national studies of prison populations in the 1980s and 1990s found that Minnesota’s Black-to-White incarceration-rate ratios ranged from 19:1 to almost 23:1; in each study, these were the highest ratios of any state. More recent data from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, combined with Census population data by race, shows steadily falling Black:White prison ratios – the ratio declined from about 18:1 in 2001 to 11:1 in 2006. And recent national data show even lower ratios, when jail inmates are included and Hispanic inmates are counted separately rather than included in the Black and White race categories. On this basis, Minnesota’s Black:White incarceration-rate ratio for 2005 (the most recent year with data) was 9:1. Of the 48 states reporting both prison and jail rates by race in 2005, 10 states had higher Black:White ratios than Minnesota, and three states had approximately the same ratio.

This is the real race to the top that Minnesota in engaged in. These data are from 2005.

It is also unclear whether the picture is getting any better:

One of the most recent ones was published in November of 2009, and was entitled "What Explains Persistent Racial Disproportionality in Minnesota's Prison and Jail Populations?" In it, professor Richard Frase of the University of Minnesota Law School stated that "Studies of state prison populations in the 1980s and early 1990s found that Minnesota's black per capita incarceration rates were about 20 times higher than white rates—the highest ratio reported for any state. Minnesota has done better in more recent studies," says Frase, but the fact is that "Minnesota [still] has one of the highest black/white incarceration ratios" of any state in the nation.

Just for kicks, take a guess at which state is among the most racially segregated?

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