Blacks and Hispanics Disproportionately Jailed in Rhode Island, National Report Indicates

July 26, 2007 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today said that the release of a national report analyzing incarceration rates across the country demonstrates the need for a broader commitment to address racial profiling and related problems of racial disparities in Rhode Island’s criminal justice system. The report, “Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity,” was released this past week by The Sentencing Project, located in Washington D.C., and examined nationwide prison statistics for 2005.

Although Rhode Island’s overall incarceration rate for all races is lower than that of most states, the report documents that the ratio of incarceration for blacks and Hispanics within the state, when compared to whites, was well above the national average. Rhode Island had the eighth highest ratio in the country of Hispanic-to-white inmate population, and the ninth highest ratio when it came to African Americans.

“These latest statistics make very clear the consequences of governmental policies and laws that are implemented and enforced in a disparate manner against the minority population in Rhode Island,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “For example, the statistics on traffic stops in Rhode Island have consistently demonstrated that blacks and Hispanics are much more likely than whites to be stopped and searched, even though they are less likely than whites to be found with contraband. If police target particular groups for extra scrutiny, the inevitable effect is a prison population whose racial breakdown mirrors that targeting.”

Specifically, according to 2005 statistics, when comparing incarceration rates per population of 100,000 in Rhode Island, great disparities exist between these rates for whites, blacks and Hispanics. The incarceration rate for Hispanics was 631 per 100,000, and 1,838 per 100,000 for blacks, while the rate for whites in Rhode Island was only 191. In other words, per population, blacks were 9.6 times more likely than whites to be incarcerated in Rhode Island, and Hispanics were 3.3 times more likely to be incarcerated — nearly twice the national ratios for the two groups (5.6 and 1.8, respectively).

The statistics remain troubling when compared to overall national averages, said the ACLU. Despite the fact that the state’s overall rates of incarceration are lower than the national average, whites, comparatively, were still significantly underrepresented in the incarcerated population when compared to blacks and Hispanics.

The ACLU said it hopes these latest figures will prompt the General Assembly to enact strong anti-racial profiling legislation in 2008. No action was taken on such legislation in the most recent session.

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