Is Institutional Racism Real?


“The prison industrial complex is racist because in incarcerates more blacks than it does whites.” This idea has constantly thrown me for a loop. I have always thought this to merely be a political talking point. Statistics are much more convoluted than a simple one-liner. I took on looking at the crime numbers in 2007 and 2017 to see if this statement carried any water, and what I found, and what it says about “institutional” racism was shocking. 

The population breakdown of race in the United States is pertinent in this analysis. We have to be able to contrast the amount of crime to the population of the different races to see any disproportionality. As of 2018 whites made up 76.5% of the U.S. Population, yet 30% of the prison population. Blacks make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, and 33% of the prison population. Finally, Hispanic/Latinos make up 18.3% of the U.S. population, but 23% of the prison population. By looking at these numbers I would agree that there does seem to be some issues with proportionality between racial populations and prison populations. Now let us look at crime statistics.

White commit 68.9% of all crime. This is lower than their nationwide population. Whites commit more crimes than blacks in every category, except robbery. The fact that whites generally commit more crimes than blacks and Hispanics/Latinos is to be expected because of their drastically higher percentage of the population. Whites also commit some crimes at a higher rate than their population. Crimes like arson, sex offenses, and drug abuse are statically higher than whites crime rate. However, driving under the influence and liquor law violations are even statically higher than the white’s national population.

Blacks commit 27.2% of all crime. This is more than double their national population. Blacks commit crimes like robbery aggravated assault, vehicle theft, violent crime, other types of assaults at an extremely higher rate than their population. Even crimes like forgery, counterfeiting, fraud, and embezzlement are committed by blacks over 30% of the time. Though victimless, blacks also rank high in crimes like prostitution, gambling, curfew, and weapons possessions. Not a single crime statistic places them at, or below, their national population level. There are only three areas where they are even significantly close to proportional with their population; driving under the influence, liquor laws, and drunkenness.

Hispanic/ Latinos commit 18.1% of all crime. Hispanics/Latinos seem to be very close to their national level. Hispanic/Latino crime does not fall below 11%, nor rise above 27%. The average of these two numbers is 19%, which is less than one percent higher than their national population. However, what I did see that rose my awareness was the fact that Native Americans make up 2.4% of the crime, but are charged with suspicion 38.6% of the time. This seems like a much more of a racial concern than anything else that I found.

Blacks make up 33% of the prison population and yet they commit 27.2% of all crime. Their prison population is a little higher, but Blacks also commit violent crimes at a much higher rate. Violent crimes bear a much higher penalty. Nevertheless, strides have been made in reducing the black prison population. In ten years, 2007-2017, the black prison population has decreased by 19.7%. During that same time, Black crime only dropped by 1%. This would lead me to believe that Blacks are receiving alternative punishments.

Hispanics are being over incarcerated as well. This is interesting because they do not commit any statistically high crime. At least, not in comparison to some of the swings in White crime and Black crime. What is even more revealing is at the same time the Hispanic/Latino prison grew by 10.9%.

Meanwhile, Whites are being under incarcerated. The white prison population is 30% and their crime rate is 68.9%. In the same time, the population of white prisoners decreased by 12.7%, the White crime only dropped by 0.8%. Once again this would indicate that alternative punishments are being implemented. Part of this disparity could be the fact that Whites are not committing crimes disproportionate to their population.

There have been reports of policing being racist due to targeting urban areas. Let’s break this down logically though. Urban areas have a higher population in a more condensed area, Therefore, more crime takes place. This would lead to higher amounts of policing, and also a higher incarceration rate. This, of course, would be vastly different from a rural area. Even if police were targeting specific areas of an urban city, I would still say that it corresponds to the high crime. I don’t see cops breaking into rich blacks houses and arresting them. This, in and of itself, would logically break the idea that the system is inherently racist.

The comparison between Blacks and Whites falls flat. When we look at the types of crimes committed along with the amount of each population that is committing those crimes, we can see that there is a level of proportion, concerning severity, that supports the idea that there is not a racial disparity here. However, I think that there are still racial issues here. 

Why are Hispanics and Latinos being incarcerated at much higher rates? Especially when they are not committing more crimes or even committing more violent crimes at a higher rate? The only thing that I could think of was deportation rates. The possibility that some of these increased numbers are people being arrested for crimes, but then being incarcerated due to their resident status. 

This disparity with the Hispanic/Latino population is weird because their rate of being arrested in suspicion of a crime is below 10%. Meanwhile, Native Americans are being arrested for suspicion at a rate of more than 16 times their crime rate. Why are Native Americans being arrested for suspicion so much when they are not committing crimes at a significantly high rate? 

I think we might have been looking at the wrong group when discussing “institutional” racism.


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