The White Privilege Series: The Realities of Incarceration

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This post is part of a series about white privilege, in which I discuss my views on the topic and how it affects our greater community.  Click here to read the entire series.

This post is part of a series about white privilege, in which I discuss my views on the topic and how it affects our greater community.  Read part one, “Should Whites Talk About Race,” part two, “Talking to Your Kids About ‘Race” and part three “Silencing Brown Voices“.

FACT: There are more Blacks and Latinos in prison than Whites, despite the fact that they make up a much smaller segment of the U.S. population.


The 2010 U.S. Census reports that 63.7% of our population is “White”, 16.3% are Hispanic/Latino and a mere 12.2% are Black/African American.  Interesting figures when you look at them beside the U.S. prison demographics.


Many individuals will point to the fact that the numbers of Blacks and White in prison is nearly equal or that Whites, in fact, are more often locked up than Blacks…but there is one thing that people forget.  Jail and prison systems count Latinos as “White”.  Since they are counted as “White” when calculating racial demographics in our prison system, the numbers can be misleading.  You’ll notice that there is a percentage of prisoners that are categorized as “Hispanic” separately from their racial category.  Guaranteed, these individuals are not “White”.  When we remove the percent of individuals of Hispanic ethnicity from the “White” population, we are left with only 24.4% of the population being White, non-Hispanic inmates.  Which means that there is about 13.5% more Black Americans imprisoned, than White Americans.  It also means that there are 9.8% more Hispanic Americans imprisoned than Whites.

The level of disparity becomes more evident and shocking when we compare it with the census data above, which shows us that only 12.2% of the U.S. population is Black and 16.3% is Hispanic/Latino.  From the numbers above, we also know that Black and Latino inmates make up 72.1% of total U.S. inmates.  This is staggering, since they only make up 28.5% of the general U.S. population (see Census image above).

Percent of the U.S. prisoner population vs. total U.S. general population (GP):(by Race/Ethnicity)
Non-Hispanic Whites: 24.2%  [Whites in the GP = 63.7%]
Hispanics/Latinos: 34.2%  [Hispanics/Latinos in the GP = 16.3%]
Black/African American: 37.9%  [Black/African Americans in the GP = 12.2%]


You’ll also note, that it is equally interesting and concerning, that the same government that considers Hispanics as “White” in prisons, does not count them the same when they’re not behind bars.  We do NOT count them as “White” on our Census and the government does not count them as “White” when showing their staff demographics.  One has to wonder than…why are Hispanics counted as “White” ONLY in our criminal justice system?  A simple reason is that our government is more comfortable with the figures that this practice presents.  Hispanics, concealed as “White” are not so readily noticed by the probing public and this way our government can distort the facts just enough to give some strength to their claim of “fairness” within the criminal justice system.  In reality though, their claims are invalid.  Equality cannot be gained by simply concealing Hispanics under the broader (and completely incorrect) term of “White”.

Reason would tell us that we cannot explain away these facts or devalue the role that race plays in our criminal justice system.  It is a factor that still holds much sway in our judicial system and that is evidenced by the figures presented above.  I challenge individuals to see beyond their privilege and see the reality of America’s criminal justice system.  There is no indication of “fair treatment” or “justice” in the facts and figures above.  To ignore these facts would allow this great injustice to continue.


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South Texas Foodie, Traveler, Photographer, and Designer.