Black Americans Make Up Over Half the Prison Population in These 12 States: Study

Black Americans are not a majority of the general population in any state, but a report found they make up more than half of the prison population in a dozen of them.

Those states are Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia—according to the Sentencing Project's new study released Wednesday.

The Sentencing Project is a nonprofit research group that promotes decarceration and criminal justice reform.

The group found the disparity between Black and white prison populations is larger than 9 to 1 in several states: California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. New Jersey tops the nation in terms of disparity in its incarceration rates, with a Black/white ratio of more than 12 to 1.

"Truly meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system cannot be accomplished without acknowledgement of its racist underpinnings," the report stated.

The Sentencing Project also found Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans, while Latinx people are 1.3 times as likely as whites to be in a state prison.

Wisconsin leads the U.S. in Black incarceration rates, as one in every 36 Black residents is in a state prison.

The report made several recommendations to address racial and ethnic disparities in prisons, including the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and discontinuing arrests for low-level drug offenses.

Researchers also encouraged lawmakers writing crime bills to include an estimate of the policy's impact on all demographic groups.

Black Americans Incarceration Rates State Prisons
Black Americans are not a majority of the general population in any state, but a report from the Sentencing Project found they make up more than half of the prison population in a dozen of them. Above, a prisoner's hands inside a punishment cell wing at Louisiana's Angola prison. Giles Clark/Getty Images

Racial bias in policing and incarceration became a top issue in 2020 following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. Hundreds of police reform bills were passed nationwide following Floyd's murder, according to Politico.

In Congress, the House earlier this year passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The legislation, which has yet to be taken up for a vote in the Senate, would combat racial discrimination and excessive use of force in law enforcement

Decarceration has also been a growing trend, as nine states—Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont—have decreased their prison population by 30 percent or more over the past few years, according to the report.

"While prison population growth has slowed in most states due to sentencing reforms intended to create a more fair and proportionate criminal legal system, differential treatment on the basis of race sustains mass incarceration," Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at the nonprofit, said in a statement.

"Any reform effort to scale back our overreliance on imprisonment must also address these staggering racial and ethnic disparities head-on," she added.