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MA Hispanic Incarceration Rate 4th Highest in US

Monday, April 29, 2013


Statistics from national group, the Sentencing Project, reveal that Massachusetts incarcerates Hispanics at the fourth highest rate in the country.

According to data from the Sentencing Project, Massachusetts imprisons Hispanic individuals at a rate of 1,229 per 100,000 residents – a ratio of six to one when compared to the rate at which Whites are imprisoned. Nationally, this figure is only 1.8-to-one.

Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the organization, says that many things come into play when deciphering these statistics, but one definite is the impact of policy.

“A shift we’ve seen in the last few decades is the number of individuals in prison is increasing dramatically, something reflective of policies from the War on Drugs implemented in the 1980s. Since that time these figures have escalated significantly,” he said.

Policy In Action

Mauer said that drug-related crimes are different. “Unlike crimes like murder, rape, robbery which involves substantial law enforcement in a community, policing of drug-related crimes is far more discretionary,” he said, adding that each city may be dealing with the issue in a different way.

“You may have the mayor and police in one town saying they’re going after big drug dealers, and in another city, you may see them acting with a with zero tolerance approach. They may be even seeing kids smoking on the corner and arresting them.”

Mauer says there is still a strong debate over which practice is more effective, but decisions like these determine widely who ends up in prison.

“Statistics show that law enforcement usually lands on low income individuals and people of color, even though drug use is spread across the population. And this may explain a little of what we see behind these figures,” he said.

MA’s Stats

According to the Sentencing Project, the total incarcerated population in the state is 22,935 individuals, including 10,316 in prison and 12,619 in jail. Sentencing Project estimates that state corrections expenditures in millions, amount to $1,224.

Overall, the prison incarceration rate per 100,000 is 206, with a jail incarceration rate of 197 per 100,000 residents.

A total 68,615 in the Commonwealth are currently listed on probation, with 2,303 listed on parole.

The number of those in prison serving life sentences total 1,760, or 17.1 percent. Fifty-nine juveniles are currently service a life sentence without parole.

The Sentencing Project also monitors racial divides. Compared to the Hispanic imprisonment rate of 1,229 per 100,000, the Black imprisonment rate is 1,635, and only 201 for Whites, breaking down to a six-to-one ration for Hispanics and eight-to-one for Blacks, when compared to Whites.

“Broadly speaking, this is a trend that is impacting not just Latinos,” Mauer said, although they are the most proportionately imprisoned in the state. “There’s the number of people in prison, and groups that are represented, and those figures are not necessarily a function of crime rates. Often these statistics are coming from policy and practices that are in place.”
Mauer also said that the issue is one that is “rapidly evolving.”

“The number of Hispanics has increased rapidly last few year. And obviously this issue depends on their establishment in the community and levels of involvement in the justice system,” he said.

Compared to the Nation

Nationally, in state prisons and local jails, Hispanics are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of whites, compared to Massachusetts’ six times.

“It’s interesting – when you look at Hispanics, we see strong disparities in African-Americans,” Mauer said. “Latinos are incarcerated at six times the rate of whiles, and for African-Americans, that figure is often two to three times the rate of whites. Some of the same reasons are seen for African-Americans, for Latinos, but not to the same degree. It’s also true that geographically, the term ‘Hispanic’ does cover a wide range, depending on the area. It could mean Mexican if you’re in Arizona, Cuban if you’re in southern Florida, or Puerto Rican if you’re in New York, depending on immigration histories and the current status. So there is some breaking down of that required to see what that looks like.”

At the national level, 2,257,267 individuals are incarcerated in prison and in jail, with national state corrections expenditures in millions, rising to $51,984.

Causes Behind the Figures

Mauer says that this issue goes beyond policy, to society’s inclination to use prison as a “first response.”

“There has been an explosion in the prison population,” he said. “I think we’ve come to rely on imprisonment as our first response, and there are many negative effects to incarceration. We should be trying to limit that whenever possible due to all of the ripple effects.”

Mauer added that with the imbalance in funding the prison system, efforts to lower recidivism are hampered.

“Because we have poured so much into the back end of the system, we are starved at the front end – prevention and treatment, alternatives to sentencing, programs to divert people from incarceration. It’s a good moment to look at how we could diminish populations in reasonable manner.”

What Can Be Done

Despite the high ratio in Massachusetts, Mauer said that there are states that are stabilizing their prison populations and even shutting facilities – New York and New Jersey.

“In the last decade, they have reduced their prison population by about 20 percent,” he said. “That came out of a mix of things – partly a lowered crime rate in New York City, and also policy changes and diverting drug offenders from prison and reducing the number of people sent to prison after parole. A lot of times, offenders violate technical conditions of parole and end up back in prison.”

But Mauer said there has been a focus in these states to make other sanctions and conscious policy changes at a number of levels.


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