The incarceration rate of Black men in the U.S. has been dropping after reaching a high in 2001. Yet, the rate at which Black U.S. men are imprisoned is still many times that of the white and more than double that of the Hispanic male population, showing huge racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,203 Black men per 100,000 were held in state or federal prisons in the U.S. during 2019 after being sentenced (that’s roughly one in 45). This number doesn’t include people in county jails or in pre-trial confinement. All in all, the Sentencing Project estimated at the height of the incarceration crisis in 2001 that the likelihood of a Black men spending time behind bars in their lifetime was 1 in 3, while it was 1 in 17 for all U.S. men.
Imprisonment rates for women are much lower across the board in the U.S., and the rate of Hispanic and Black women being imprisoned has equally dropped since the late 1990s. The group with the lowest overall incarceration rate, white women, are unique in the sense that their imprisonment rate was growing quite steadily since 1980 and only started dropping since 2015.
Different theories exist why Black incarceration rates have been declining. For one, crime and arrests have been decreasing in the U.S. overall. Also, the war on drugs has shifted its focus onto meth and opioids, which are drugs associated to a larger extent with the white population. Finally, criminal justice reform might have had some positive effects too, according to the Marshall Project.