Recent figures calculated and released by the U.S. Census Bureau present a startling, yet not altogether surprising, picture for race relations in the 21st century United States.
The data (a summary of which you can view here) is part of the first research into people living “group quarters,” such as adult correctional facilities, college dorms, and nursing homes. As the figures show, we house far more Latinos in prisons than we do in colleges.
The U.S. is a nation with a growing number of its population locked up in correctional facilities. Though federal crime statistics show a drop in crime since the 1970s, today more than 2.1 million Americans are behind bars. That is an increase of 1 million since 1990 alone, and a growth of more than 100,000 since 2000. Largely the result of increased penalties for many common crimes as well as reforms in sentencing, the significant story is who in the U.S. is disproportionately affected by these changes.
The incarcerated population is overwhelmingly male (90%) and less educated than the American public as a whole. More than 60% of them are between the ages of 25 and 44, the prime years of life in terms of social and economic participation and accumulation of wealth. While most of the incarcerated population is “white,” a large share is African American and Latino. “Whites” compose about 70% of the U.S. population but only make up about 46% of the population locked up. African Americans, less than 15% of the U.S. population are more than 40% of the incarcerated population. Finally, Latinos who are about 15% of the U.S. population make up almost 20% of the prison population.
There are currently almost 400,000 Latinos in U.S. prisons. That figure is most startling when compared to the population of Latinos currently in higher education “group quarters” living situations. That population is about 141,000. That means, according to the latest data, Latinos are almost three times as likely to end up in prison than they are in college.
This is a national crisis, one in dire need of attention and of movement. One of the first and best organizations doing something about this is Critical Resistance. I encourage you to get informed, and stay involved.