A new report finds that there has been a significant narrowing of the racial disparities in prison population. That is welcome news to PFM. Racial disparity in prisons is obvious the minute you enter a correction facility. There is no denying it. Blacks and browns make up a far greater proportion of the population in prisons than whites. PFM has worked very hard to stop this imbalance.
According to the New York Times, “The decline in incarceration rates was most striking for black women, dropping 30.7 percent over the ten-year period. In 2000, black women were imprisoned at six times the rate of white women; by 2009, they were 2.8 times more likely to be in prison. For black men, the rate of imprisonment decreased by 9.8 percent; in 2000 they were incarcerated at 7.7 times the rate of white men, a rate that fell to 6.4 times that of white men by 2009.”
There are many causes for these disparities, but sentencing laws are a major factor. For two decades Justice Fellowship worked to end the disparity of sentences between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, a major cause of the imbalance in federal prisons. Under this law, 88 percent of those sentenced for crack cocaine offenses were black, despite the fact that 52 percent of crack users were white.
We succeeded in building bi-partisan support for the Fair Sentencing Act to narrow the disparity, and it finally passed in 2010. In addition, PFM has taken strong stands against mandatory minimum sentences, another major contributor to racial imbalance. We will continue to work for laws that weigh the responsibility of the offender without bias of any kind.
Pat Nolan is the Chuck Colson Distinguished Fellow on Justice, and director of PFM’s Center for Justice Reform. For more information, visit the Justice Fellowship website.