73 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1259 (1982)
On the Racial Disproportionality of United States' Prison Populations

handle is hein.journals/jclc73 and id is 1271 raw text is: 0091-4169/82/7303-1259
TiIEJOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW & CRIMINOLOGY                            Vol. 73, No. 3
Copyright 0 1982 by Northwestern University School of Law           Printrdin USA.
ON THE RACIAL DISPROPORTIONALITY
OF UNITED STATES' PRISON
POPULATIONS*
ALFRED BLUMSTEIN**
I. THE PROBLEM OF RACIAL DISPROPORTIONALITY IN PRISONS
One of the most distressing and troublesome aspects of the opera-
tion of the criminal justice system in the United States is the severe dis-
proportionality between blacks and whites in the composition of prison
populations. Although blacks comprise roughly one-eighth of the popu-
lation, they represent about one-half of the prison population. Thus, the
race-specific incarceration rates (the ratio of prisoners to population
within each racial group) are grossly disproportionate. This dispropor-
tionality has been a source of major concern, largely because it suggests
the possibility of gross injustice in the criminal justice system.
The racial differences in imprisonment are reflected in Table 1,
which presents demographic-specific incarceration rates (in units of pris-
oners per 100,000 persons within each indicated demographic group) in
state prisons (not including federal prisons or local jails) for blacks and
whites and their total.I This table highlights the great sensitivity of in-
* The assistance of Adolfo Paez of the Bureau of the Census and of Carole Kalish of the
Bureau of Justice Statistics in obtaining some of the data used in this paper is very much
appreciated. The contributions of Kevin Milligan of Carnegie-Mellon University in
providing computational and analytical assistance are also appreciated. Valuable comments
on an earlier draft of this paper were offered by Jacqueline Cohen, Jonathan Casper, John
Coffee, Susan Martin, Norval Morris, Daniel Rosenblum, Michael Tonry, James Q. Wilson,
Marvin Wolfgang, and Jocelyn Young. I have also discussed the paper with other members
of the Panel on Sentencing Research of the National Research Council, and their comments
have also been most helpful. Of course, they bear no blame for the final product.
** Eric Jonsson Professor, School of Urban & Public Affairs, Carnegie-Mellon University;
Ph.D., Cornell University, 1961; M.A., University of Buffalo, 1954; B. Eng. Phys., Cornell
University, 1951.
1 The data on age, 'race, and sex of the prisoners were obtained from a survey of state
prison inmates conducted in 1979 by the Bureau of the Census for the U.S. Bureau of Justice
Statistics. From that survey, for example, there were estimated to be 74,150 black males in
their twenties in state prisons. The ratio of this number to the corresponding U.S. population
(2,384,000 black males in their twenties) is the incarceration rate of 3068 per 100,000. Popu-
lation data were obtained from U.S. BUREAU OF CENSUS, 1980 CENSUS OF POPULATION
SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT No. PC80-3 1-1, AGE, SEX, RACE, AND SPANISH ORIGIN OF THE

1259

What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing nearly 2,700 academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.



Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline with pricing starting as low as $29.95

Access to this content requires a subscription. Please visit the following page to request a quote or trial:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?