Non-Whites Comprise 55% of Private Prison Inmates: Study

An Oregon State University professor says his comparative study of prison demographics supports critics who say private prisons “skim the best inmates with the lowest needs in attempt to minimize costs.” The study found that inmates in for-profit institutions serve disproportionately shorter sentences than the general incarcerated population.

Inmates of private prisons are disproportionately non-white compared to incarcerated state and federal populations, according to a study published this month in the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice.

The study author, Brett C. Burkhardt, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at Oregon State University’s School of Public Policy, compared the demographics of private prison inmates and employees to those in state and federal prisons, based on 2005 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Census of State and Federal Adult Correctional Facilities—the most recent figures available.

According to the study’s findings, white inmates make up 53 percent of the adjusted population in state prisons, but only 45 percent of the population in private prisons.

 Just as significantly, Burkhardt says his findings show that private prison inmates serve shorter sentences on average than their counterparts in federal and state institutions.

“Critics have long suspected that private prison firms skim the best inmates with the lowest needs in attempt to minimize costs” wrote Burkhardt, noting that they operate according to a “business ethos” that directed them to maximize revenues and minimize costs.

Contractual arrangements between a government and contractor specify the types of inmates that may or may not be received by private prisons. But because public record laws typically do not apply to private prisons, these documents are not readily available, Burkhardt wrote.

“This is unfortunate because the private contractors are providing a service that is fraught with potential violations of inmates’ constitutional rights and because taxpayers are paying the price,” Burkhardt added.

Some states have stipulations about the kinds of inmates eligible for detention in private prisons, he noted. Private prison contracts in Arizona, for example, mandated that high-risk inmates or those with high medical needs were sent to state or federal prisons.

In Minnesota, one private prison did not accept offenders over the age of 60, or anyone with mental health orders.

Historically, he observed, private prisons have fared poorly on a variety of performance measures, including access to health care and work assignments.

Compared to state-run prisons, inmates in private sector prisons have limited access to disease prevention programs, are guarded by staff with less training, and have more grievances.

The study also found that private prisons are typically non-unionized workplaces that disproportionately hire female workers and women of color. Staff workers in private prisons also receive lower wages than those in the public sector.

The demographics for private prison employees show similarly imbalances when compared to state and federal prisons. Some 40 percent of the staff  in private prisons are African American, compared to 22 percent in state prisons; 11 percent are Hispanic, compared to six percent in state prisons.

Women make up roughly half of the prison staff in private prisons, but only about 25 percent in state and federal prisons.

To the extent that private prisons hold and employ different populations, they should be viewed as an auxiliary piece of the prison system, not a direct substitute for traditional state or federal prisons, suggested Burkhardt.

The study raises questions about the process by which inmates are assigned to private vs. public prisons.

Typically, policy makers have viewed private prisons as engines for economic growth.

“But given documented pattern of poor compensation and instability in private prison jobs, the true result is likely to be an employment model that takes advantage of existing market insecurities among historically marginalized groups of workers,” the study said.

That model, concluded Burkhardt, “is not the robust economic engine that civic leaders might hope for.”

The study is available for purchase here, but journalists can obtain a free copy by contacting Victoria Mckenzie, deputy editor of The Crime Report at

This summary was prepared by TCR News Intern Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Florida War on Drugs Biased Against Blacks

Blacks are 17 percent of Florida’s population but have accounted for 46 percent of the state’s felony drug convictions since 2004. Blacks spend two-thirds more time behind bars for drug crimes, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

Cocaine convictions in Florida are down more than half during the past decade, as violent crime rates plummeted. Now, the crisis is heroin and fentanyl. The dealers are mostly white. So are the tens of thousands of Floridians dying. The policies used to combat the epidemic still target those with darker skin, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports. Reporters spent more than a year analyzing millions of records in the state court Offender Based Transaction System, which tracks every criminal case in Florida from arrest to appeal. The newspaper also used databases from the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Medical Examiners Commission to measure racial disparities in the war on drugs. Blacks are 17 percent of Florida’s population but have accounted for 46 percent of the state’s felony drug convictions since 2004. Blacks spend two-thirds more time behind bars for drug crimes.

Laws on the books since the crack epidemic bloat racial disparities. Heightened penalties for carrying drugs near churches, parks and public housing blanket minority communities, where police roam for low-level offenders. Blacks are nearly three times more likely to face a drug-free zone enhancement and account for two thirds of these convictions statewide. Once caught in drug-free zones, blacks spend double the time locked up as whites who are convicted of the enhanced charges and score similar points on their sentencing guidelines, which account for the prior records of defendants and the severity of their crimes. Legislators continue to pass laws that emphasize punishment over treatment, even as rehab is seen as the answer to substance abuse. These policies have crowded jails and prisons, while making it harder for blacks to get help for addiction.


Walking While Black: Analysis Finds Racial Slant in FL Tickets

African Americans got 55 percent of all tickets issued for pedestrian violations in Jacksonville over the past five years. Nearly all such tickets were written in the city’s poorest sections. “There is not an active effort to be in black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets,” says the local sheriff.

ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union report that blacks received 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets issued over the past five years in Jacksonville, Fla., where African Americans account for 29 percent of the population. Almost all of the tickets, typically costing $65, were issued in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Blacks were nearly three times as likely as whites to be ticketed for a pedestrian violation. And residents of the city’s three poorest zip codes were about six times as likely to receive a pedestrian citation as those living in the city’s other, more affluent 34 zip codes. Seventy-eight percent of all tickets written for “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided” were issued to blacks. And blacks got 68 percent of tickets issued for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or shortest route.”

Sheriff Mike Williams said, “Let me tell you this: There is not an active effort to be in black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets.” The sheriff’s department’s second-in-command, Patrick Ivey, said any racial disparities could only be explained by the fact that blacks were simply violating the statutes more often than others in Jacksonville. Ivey said stopping people for pedestrian violations as a means for establishing probable cause to search them was also fully justified. “Shame on him that gives me a legal reason to stop him,” Ivey said.


Sentencing Commission: Race Gap in Prison Terms Persists

African-American male offenders receive sentences averaging 19.1 percent longer than white males—a gap that has largely remained unchanged since the Commission began studying the issue in 2010. In its third report on the demographic factors affecting sentencing outcomes, the USSC also said females received shorter prison terms than males.

Race continues to determine the length of sentences received for offenses of all kinds in the federal system, according to a new analysis by the United States Sentencing Commission.

In its third study of the subject since 2010, the Commission found that African-American male offenders were sentenced to prison terms that were on average 19.1 percent longer than white male offenders between 2012-2016.

That gap was not statistically different from prior periods of study, the Commission added.

During the same period, the sentences of Hispanic male offenders were on average 5.3 percent longer than the sentences received by whites.

The study noted that while an initial analysis of the figures suggested that the difference in sentencing length between African Americans and whites had narrowed from 34 months in 2006 to nine months in 2016, the reduced gap was largely due to reductions in penalties for crack cocaine offenses—in which blacks make up the largest component of offenders.

“When other relevant factors are controlled for,” the study said, “the gap in sentence lengths between black male and white male offenders did not shrink but, in fact, remained relatively stable across these periods.”

The study found that African-American offenders were less likely to be offered plea deals than whites—but even those who accepted such deals still received sentences on average 16 percent longer than their white counterparts.

The Commission analyzed court records in 2016 to investigate whether violence in an offender’s previous history might account for the demographic differences in sentencing—the first time it had done so in its demographic studies—and found that it had no effect.

The racial gaps noted in the study, however, did not apply to gender.

During the same period, the Commission said, female offenders on average received shorter sentences than males, regardless of race.

The Commission cautioned that its analysis “cannot control for all the factors that judges may consider…and should not be taken to suggest discrimination on the part of judges.”

“Multivariate analysis,” it added, “cannot explain why the differences in outcomes exist, but only that they do exist.”

The updated report, “Demographic Differences in Sentencing,” was released Tuesday. It was prepared by Glenn R. Schmitt, Louis Reedt, and Kevin Blackwell, respectively, director, deputy director and senior research associate in the Office of Research and Data of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The full report can be downloaded here.


Legal Aid for Capital Punishment Cases Depends on Where You Live: Study

A pro-death penalty “punitive culture” in some federal jurisdictions ensures that poor defendants in capital punishment cases never get the quality of public defense they are entitled to, argues a study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. The authors say their findings help explain the stark racial disparities in the application of death sentences across the U.S.

A pro-death penalty “punitive culture” in some federal jurisdictions ensures that poor defendants in capital punishment cases never get the quality of public defense they are entitled to, argues a study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.

The study, which examined why defendants in some federal death penalty cases failed to receive the full range of public defense services, found that a “social and political climate” favoring capital punishment was among the “extralegal” factors that influenced some local court administrations to allocate fewer federal funds for those services.

The lack of sufficient resources meant that defendants in those jurisdictions were forced to rely on lawyers who lacked experience in capital cases, or on attorneys whose appointment was not recommended by either the local federal public defender or the Office of Defender Services.

Extralegal factors that have nothing to do with the legal merits of a case not only shortchange the ability of indigent defendants to present mitigating circumstances that can help them avoid a death sentence—but make a death sentence more likely, the study said.

“Our findings strongly connect extralegal factors to the lowest levels of defense resources, which in turn correlate with a higher risk of a death sentence,” wrote study authors Jon B. Gould, professor of Public Affairs and Law at American University; and Kenneth Leon, a visiting assistant professor at George Washington University.

“Far from being idiosyncratic discrepancies, these are systemic and systematic extralegal factors that stand between a defendant and his opportunity to defend against a death sentence.”

The study looked at data in the 14 federal jurisdictions that have received the bulk of capital authorizations in U.S. death penalty cases between 1998 and 2004, and examined the outcomes of 62 cases where defendants faced the real prospect of a death sentence. Just four of those jurisdictions—Louisiana-Eastern (New Orleans), Missouri-Western (Kansas City),Texas-Eastern (Tyler and Texarkana), and Virginia-Eastern (Richmond and Northern Virginia)—showed both a high concentration of allocated funds and death sentences.

Within these 62 cases, the median level of allocated defense funds was about $465,602, with the lowest number being about $67,366 and the highest number being about $1,788,246.

The authors cited a study commissioned by the Committee on Defender Services of the Judicial Conference of the United States showing that 44 percent of defendants whose approved funds fell below the 30th percentile of support – about $320,000 – were sentenced to death, versus 19 percent in all other cases.

Their findings indicated “a system of federal capital litigation that limits the resources that certain suspects receive for their defense based simply on where the case is brought,” the authors said.

The survey found that extralegal factors were more likely to determine the level of resources allocated by local jurisdictions to public defenders’ offices in capital cases than more “legally relevant” factors, such as the number of defendants, offenses, or victims.

A key extralegal factor was what they described as a “punitive culture” in states—particularly in the South—where there was strong support for the death penalty.

The authors said that the link between extralegal factors such as “the local punitive culture, the background of the presiding judge,the caseload and speed of the court’s docket, and the race of the defendant” and decisions on appointments of lawyers and the level of resources available for defense had “real and quite troubling” consequences.

In contrast, the study found that judges who attended a nationally recognized law school, as well as those who have past experience as a federal prosecutor, were much less likely to be involved in lower-cost cases.

The authors also drew a link between research that shows poor African-American capital defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white and their findings that blacks were almost 1.7 times more likely than other defendants to receive a lower-cost defense.

The authors said their research reinforced an earlier study by G. Ben Cohen and Robert J. Smith, which declared the “geography of the federal death penalty is anything but uniform, “

They argued their findings cast additional doubt on the presumed uniformity of legal procedures in the nation’s federal court system.

“The notion that defense resources would turn on extralegal or cultural factors is antithetical to […] legal norms and the legitimacy of the federal criminal justice system itself, especially because the federal courts are considered a unitary legal system in which the prevailing law, processes, and standards are presumed to be common,” the study said.

The authors added: “When those resource-related disparities, in turn, are strongly correlated with the likelihood of a death sentence at trial, the integrity of the federal death penalty is subject to increased doubt.”

The study, entitled, “A Culture that is Hard to Defend: Extralegal Factors in Federal Death Penalty Cases” appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, published by the Northwestern University School of Law. It can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Brian Edsall. Readers’ comments are welcome.


‘White Lives Matter’ Rally Peaceful in Tennessee

About 160 white nationalists were drowned out by 400 counterprotesters in Shelbyville, Tn. Organizers cancelled a second planned rally in Murfreesboro.

White nationalists were greatly outnumbered by counterprotesters Saturday during a “White Lives Matter” rally in Shelbyville and decided to cancel a second rally in Murfreesboro, the USA Today Network Tennessee reports. Law enforcement in both cities made painstaking efforts to keep the groups separate. Officials said the events had been largely peaceful. About 160 white nationalists, led by the League of the South, descended on Shelbyville to hear speeches from group leaders Saturday morning. At several points they were drowned out by more than 400 counterprotesters across the street, who sang, chanted and played Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech over a loudspeaker. Kat Chambers of Jackson, Ms., drove six hours to join the counterprotesters. “I don’t want Nazis on the street of my country, not my state, not your state,” she said.

White nationalists had said the Tennessee events were intended to protest an influx of refugees. Thor Henderson, a grand officer in Georgia for the International Keystone Knights, a Ku Klux Klan group, said he was marching to bring awareness to the September shooting at an Antioch church. One woman was killed and seven others were injured in the church shooting; the suspect, Emanuel Kidega Samson, is a legal U.S. resident from Sudan. Law enforcement from across the state collaborated with Shelbyville police to oversee the rally. Barriers kept the groups on sidewalks at opposite sides of a four-lane road while officers watched from the median.


TN Cities Ban Guns at Weekend ‘White Lives Matter’ Rallies

The central Tennessee cities of Shelbyville and Murfreesboro are preparing for demonstrations Saturday by white-nationalist groups. Many fear the rallies could turn violent like the August demonstration in Charlottesville, Va.

Authorities in Tennessee are preparing for “White Lives Matter” rallies scheduled Saturday in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, both south of Nashville. A range of avowed white-nationalist groups plan to descend on the cities, and many fear the rallies could turn violent like the demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., in August, reports The Trace. In preparation, Shelbyville (pop. 26,000) announced Wednesday evening that it would implement extensive security measures for the event there, which lacks a permit. Attendees will have to enter a designated protest area through checkpoints. Police will screen them for prohibited items, including guns, masks, bottles, torches and laser pointers.

Murfreesboro (pop. 132,000) announced similar precautions for its rally, which does have a permit. Mayor Shane McFarland condemned the demonstration. Mike Browning, a spokesman for the Murfreesboro police, said, “We’ll have sufficient security to prevent weapons from getting into the safe zone,” but declined to offer specifics. To ban guns from the rallies, Shelbyville and Murfreesboro officials had to go further than issuing a public notice. State law requires municipalities in Tennessee to set up cordons and screen with a metal detector everyone who enters the designated demonstration area. Organizers of the rallies noted that guns were banned, though they originally encouraged followers to familiarize themselves with local firearms law and to come equipped with helmets and shields in anticipation of any possible fighting. An updated event page later eliminated mention of firearms law and helmets or shields.


Long Island Minorities More Likely to Be Arrested, Jailed

Over the past decade, Long Island’s blacks, Hispanics and other minorities were far more likely than whites to be arrested and wind up behind bars for crimes that experts say are the suburban equivalent of “stop and frisk” charges, Newsday reports.

Over the past decade, Long Island’s blacks, Hispanics and other minorities were far more likely than whites to be arrested and wind up behind bars for crimes that experts say are the suburban equivalent of “stop and frisk” charges, Newsday reports. Nonwhites on Long Island were arrested at nearly five times the rate for whites, found an analysis of police and court records from 2005 to 2016. There was a similar racial pattern among those who were jailed. Newsday reviewed 100,000 Long Island cases involving charges resulting from “stop and frisk”-like tactics, such as resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration, criminal trespass and a host of drug-related offenses. Police say these types of charges primarily result from traffic stops. Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said, “A lot of our police interactions are traffic stops because people are driving in Suffolk County, as opposed to the city where fewer people are driving.” Police say these arrests are based on legally permissible causes or “reasonable suspicion” by officers. Police can question and possibly frisk suspects if they believe a crime has been committed.

“We go to great pains to ensure that our members are not engaged in any forms of biased policing,” says former acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter. “A small percentage of the population are responsible for the majority of the crime. We look to target those individuals that, based on their histories, are responsible for that crime in those hot spots.” Critics say many pull-over arrests are prompted by minor traffic infractions, such as a faulty brake light, that can quickly turn into more serious charges affecting nonwhites in unfair proportions. While white drivers may get a warning or a traffic ticket, they say, nonwhites are more likely to face serious felony charges.


U FL President: Spencer Hopes to Provoke Violence

University of Florida president Kent Fuchs said white nationalist Richard Spencer wants the speech he will deliver Thursday to provoke violence that will gain sympathy for the alternative right movement he represents.

University of Florida president Kent Fuchs said white nationalist Richard Spencer wants the speech he will deliver Thursday to provoke violence that will gain sympathy for the alternative right movement he represents, USA Today reports. Spencer and his supporters will thrive on any confrontation brought by anti-fascist protesters, warned Fuchs. They hope to bring violent clashes that broke out during an August rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left one woman dead.

“Now, for the first time in the history of our nation, very different racist groups are coming together under one person who speaks their language and their words and speaks their views on racism and white supremacy,” Fuchs said. “They’re coming to campus with the intentions of confrontation and with the intention of having all of us repeat their view on the world.” Spencer organizers complicated security arrangements by planning to wait until an hour and a half before the event to distribute tickets. Only people who look like alt-right supporters will be among the 700 people allowed inside the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. “They’re picking and choosing — it definitely isn’t us,” said Alachua County, Fl., Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Sims. “They are the requester of the event and these tickets belong to them, but yes, it’s absolutely a safety concern.”


Want Friendlier Cops? Hire More Blacks and Latinos, says Study

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs? A study released Friday suggests it does, and the authors—both from the University of Central Florida—say it supports arguments that law enforcement diversity is crucial to restoring trust and legitimacy in America’s police forces.

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs?

A Florida study released Friday suggests it does, although the authors admit their findings aren’t conclusive.

The study found “significant” variation among African-American, Latino and white police officers in West Palm Beach, FL, not only in their attitudes towards community policing, but in the way they regarded citizens who needed help—even in cases that did not involve serious crimes.

“Officers of color harbor much less negativity toward citizens and are more willing to see them as worthy of help, including for matters not involving serious crimes,” said the study, which also found that black and Latino officers displayed less cynicism about their jobs than their white colleagues.

The authors of the study, Jacinta M. Gau and Eugene A. Paoline III, both of the University of Central Florida, based their findings on responses to a survey administered during morning roll call over a week-long period in July 2016 to 149 beat cops—representing more than half the 228-member West Palm Beach Police Department.

Some 35% of the department’s uniformed personnel are black or Latino. While that was still not reflective of West Palm Beach’s population—the authors cited U.S. Census Bureau figures showing that over half the city’s 107,000 residents were persons of color— they argued that the racial breakdown of the city’s force reflected the nationwide trend towards increased diversity in hiring, and was substantial enough to make it the focus of their survey.

Although more than 200 officers actually participated in the study, the authors focused on beat cops whose responses they felt would more clearly reflect street knowledge and experience.

Their findings offered some statistical support for arguments by police reformers that diversity is crucial to improving police-community relations—particularly in at-risk neighborhoods where trust and confidence in law enforcement are at a low ebb.

The authors said the survey results suggested that black and Latino officers “may be uniquely important to fostering the reliable public support” that allows police to effectively protect public safety.

“A greater representation of minority officers may translate into better service provision and police–community relationships,” they said, noting that both black and Latino officers were more “favorably disposed than whites” towards partnerships with businesses and community groups in crime-prevention efforts.

While nearly all the officers shared similar opinions about the importance of the law-and-order aspects of their job (catching criminals), “Black and Latino officers seem to view citizens more favorably than white officers do (and) are significantly more likely to believe that victims deserve police assistance and that they are genuinely helping people when they answer calls for service.”

The authors made clear their study did not attempt to analyze the reasons for the disparity, and they notably avoided any suggestion that racist attitudes played any role in the differing responses.

They noted that other studies have shown that much of the cynicism ascribed to police was the result of attitudes learned from colleagues over time as they acquired more experience in their jobs—and as they dealt with commanders and supervisors.

The study did not provide more detailed data on the officers’ gender, experience or economic background, and the authors made clear that more studies of other law enforcement agencies around the country, conducted over longer periods of time, were essential before drawing any definitive conclusions about the influence of an officer’s race on his or her behavior.

But they said their findings underlined the need for police leaders and supervisors to pay more attention to keeping officers of “all races sensitized to the importance of their actions during face-to-face interactions with citizens,” which is also among the conclusions of former President Barack Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“Without calling white officers out,” the authors said, “(their) negative leaning seems to suggest a need for police leaders to pay attention to officers’ attitudes and the way in which they approach citizens.”

At a minimum, they said, their findings made clear that increasing the diversity of police forces should continue to be high on the agenda of police managers and policymakers.

Officers of color are increasing in number across the country.

The authors cited figures showing that the ranks of minority officers in municipal and county agencies nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013, from 15% to 27% .

A full copy of the study, which will be published in Justice Quarterly under the title “Officer Race, Role Orientations, and Cynicism toward Citizens,” is available here.

This summary was prepared by Stephen Handelman, executive editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.