Incarceration Rates for Racial & Ethnic Minorities

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 11
Words: 3042
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: Undergraduate


The population of prisoners in the United States has been on the increase since the early 1970s with millions of people being jailed at present. This growth has not been proportional for all races and ethnicities. In fact, some observations of the minorities are more than the white population. Studies focusing on the incarceration rates of ethnic minorities in North America have not established a consensus. This study, therefore, makes a relationship on the incarceration rates in North America using the ethnics and racial minorities involved as the variables to relate. The relevance of the study is to enable the authorities to re-evaluate and effect changes in the criminal justice system in these states to restore fairness to all races and ethnicities. It will also document any injustices to these groups to enable any legal actions. The research question is, ‘Are incarceration rates much higher for the racial and ethnic minorities within North America?’ This study, therefore, analyzes and reflects the actual state of the criminal justice system in North America in an attempt to show the discrimination faced by the ethnic and racial minorities with regard to sentencing.

Literature Review

A number of studies have been conducted on the incarceration rates of ethnic and racial minorities in the North American states with most of them coming from the US, which has been significantly affected. With the racial minorities in the US constituting a large proportion of the prison population especially young male inmates, the issue is a serious one that affects modern-day criminal justice policymakers (Bridges, Crutchfield, & Simpson, 1987, p. 343). For the purpose of this study, a literature search was conducted on the studies detailing the incarceration of racial and ethnic minorities in North America. The inclusion criteria were the language used and the timing of the research. Studies selected had to be in English and not more than 50 years old. Of the studies that were located using the relevant databases, the most appropriate were picked and further scrutinized until the final list of studies was obtained. An evaluation in detail followed where the findings were reported and compared.

Five articles and published research findings were mainly considered relevant for review in this study. Bridges, Crutchfield, and Simpson conducted a study on the rates of Whites and Non-Whites imprisonment in relevance to social structure and criminal punishment (1987, p. 346).In the study, the methodology involved the collection of the social-economic status of the minorities including the demographic distribution within the state. Some of the data provided in the research included the crime pattern in the state counties, the imprisonment rates, and other information regarding the criminal justice system for years between 1980 and 1982. Qualitative methods were used to document the incarceration rates with the population of inmates in the period being divided against their corresponding total population in the state (Bridges, Crutchfield, & Simpson, 1987, p. 349).

F.B.I Uniform Crime Reports (UCR & UCR index crime) were used to draw statistics including violent crime rates, white and non-white arrest rates, and imprisonment rate at individual county levels (Bridges, Crutchfield, & Simpson, 1987, p. 352). The research findings indicated that the imprisonment rates for the non-white population in the counties were far more in relation to those for the whites. As an overview, the research proposes that the imprisonment rate of non-white males in the US is generally higher than that of their White counterparts. The paper suggests a form of discrimination in this society by citing historical injustices as major contributing factors. In the areas where the research was conducted, the number of whites in the population was higher in proportion to the other races and ethnicities. This proportion was however not represented in the penal institutions. The researchers concluded that the case was not by mere chance. This information differed from their estimate that the crime rate of a particular county would have a great impact over the imprisonment rate similarly for whites and non-whites (Bridges, Crutchfield, & Simpson, 1987, p. 358).

The authors consider the variables that may be responsible for the rates observed in imprisonment. They use these variables to explain how social factors may play a role in conclusion making as regards the topic. The study does not provide a conclusive relationship between the social status of the minority races and ethnicities. This conclusive relationship is effectively shown by Warrens, Chiricos, and Bales (2012, p.57). From their research and review of these statistics, they made an observation that is relevant to the current research. Their observation from the data and analysis of the studies indicate that the incarceration rates for black and Hispanics in the population was higher than the average for other racial and ethnic groups in the country. They also noted that, in relation to drugs crime and less serious offenses, young black males and Hispanic will face a disadvantage and that discrimination among whites, blacks, and Hispanics was not found regarding women who benefit from their gender (Warrens, Chiricos, & Bales, 2012, p.58).

Following their analysis of data provided by the state of Florida, the researchers deduced some major disparities in the number of inmates from the ethnic minority. The study showed that this number was greatly inflated with the proportion being significantly high thus making the current study important to add to the growing pool of knowledge. The researchers also carried out a study in the legal system to find out the conviction rates of ethnic minorities. An example of the state used in the study is the state of Florida. Data for this state was analyzed to show the convictions made in the years 2000 and 2006 (Warrens, Chiricos, & Bales, 2012, p.61).

This information takes into account the various factors in the incarceration rates of the population. Some of the categories that were considered include jail, community service, and prison terms with other factors such as successful convictions, the type of offense, and the offenders’ criminal record being included (Warrens, Chiricos, &Bales, 2012, p. 72). This research is credible based on the methodology and groups of people who were being incorporated into the study. The Black population and Hispanics are among the discriminated groups in the US and in North America in general. Adequate conclusions could therefore be derived. However, a study that attempted to include more of the minority groups is that by Bosworth (2004, p. 223). Her research attempted to relate race and imprisonment in the US.

The study related the race of individuals to the punishment in the criminal justice system revealing disparities (Bosworth, 2004, p. 223) while trying to answer the questions of whether the criminal system. Besides, it was biased against the non-white minorities extending from the police, the judges, and the probation officers (Bosworth, 2004, p. 225). Some of the questions that they sought to answer include whether the police targeted the minorities, whether the judges were stricter in judgments involving minority offenders, and whether probation officers had differences in dealing with these groups of people (Bosworth, 2004, p. 227). A further comparison was also made between the criminal system in the US and those of countries such as England and France (Bosworth, 2004, p. 227). History was considered a major source of racial discrimination in the criminal system and elsewhere in these countries.

One of the reasons that were used to explain the over-representation of the non-white populations in the prisons included the idea that these races were a social burden and hence the high imprisonment rates (Bosworth, 2004, p. 226). Among the important theories that this paper front is the origin of the discrimination of the Black minority in the US. According to Bosworth, the slave trade had a great role to play in the present racial and ethnic differences in the country more so, as relates to the high incarceration rates that she observed for this population (2004, p. 240). This theory was important in the development of a concise explanation. It may aid in the final solution.

Another paper that was the subject of review in this research is the one by Jacqueline Johnson who looked at the penal system in the US by describing it as a mechanism for racialization in the country (2011, p. 301). Her paper, like those reviewed above, attempted to address the concerns of the high minority incarceration rates in the US with the main concern being the Black and Hispanic populations (Johnson, 2011, p. 301). Her observation and that of the literature she reviewed concluded that the incarceration rate for black Americans and Hispanics was higher relative to that of other races specifically the white majority (Johnson, 2011, p. 301). This observation was not for only one state but for all the states that constituted the study. The trend was similar in all of them with the races that were most affected being the Hispanics and the Black Americans depending on the state that was considered (Johnson, 2011, p. 301).

Johnson uses the essentialist ideology to explain the targeting of minority races by the criminal system to show why perpetrators justified this claim (Johnson, 2011, p. 301). She claims that colored communities are targeted in the ideology, which has put them in social and political alienation, which further causes the infringement of their rights (Johnson, 2011, p. 301). She also goes ahead to explain that the mass incarceration of the races produces disparities in the social and economic states of the affected groups (Johnson, 2011, p. 301). She supports the claim by saying that social disparities result from the mass incarceration that is observed in the literature with attendant economic and social marginalization (Johnson, 2011, p. 301). This belief acts in a feed-forward manner. In fact, it has managed to inculcate a belief that has ensured that more African American males are incarcerated.

The last research that was the subject of review also discussed the incarceration rates of the ethnic and racial minorities in the US. In addition, the influence of local politics was examined (Percival, 2010, p. 1070). Congruent to the research described above, this article displays the disparities in the racial incarceration rates in the US. The author, however, goes ahead to investigate the political influences on the rates observed. According to him, political and legal factors contributed to the state policies and subsequently to the wide gap observed in the rate of incarceration based on the political differences (Percival, 2010, p. 1074). He cited some of the studies that had overlooked the influence of local politics in the disparities in incarceration rates for the various races (Percival, 2010, p. 1075). The state of California was used as the study area based on the diversity in religion and race that is observed here.

A conclusion that the authors worked with is that liberal states had lower incarceration rates compared to the conservative ones that were observed to have a higher rate. There are greater numbers and ratios of ethnic and racial minorities in the penal institution in North America, which constituted a major problem for contemporary policymakers in the criminal justice system (Bryman, Teevan, & Bell, 2012). The studies discussed above emphasize the importance of the current study. They all agree that the criminal justice system in North America is unfair to some races with the most affected of them being the Hispanics and the Black population, especially in the United States. Some of the factors considered include the concept of slavery and political institutions contributing to the development of the problem.


In any research and any form of study, the methodology used determines the strength of the results obtained from it. There are special requirements in the data collection and analysis that must be fulfilled for the study to be credible enough. A combination of several methods in the data collection, analysis, and presentation of the data is also important. Using one method may not be sufficient to gather the required information or make the desired conclusions. In this study, the methodology used is aimed at improving the strength of the results and or ensuring credible conclusions. Secondary sources of information are vital in the methodology, and they will be of most use in the study. These have been shown to enable researchers to create a picture of the problem under study and or provide possible explanations as done in the literature review.

The methodology used in the conducting of this research will not be very different from the one that was used in the reviewed literature. A mixed-methods approach will be used to ensure that the data and observations made will be adequate to formulate an accurate conclusion. The choice of mixed methods of approach has a number of advantages over using a single method. One of these is that the methods complement each other and, therefore, improve the sensitivity and accuracy of the study. The research design is cross-sectional. It will also constitute both qualitative and quantitative methods. The variables to be discussed in the study include the incarceration rate, a dependent variable, and the racial and ethnic minorities’ population in the penal institutions, which is an independent variable. The methodology used will attempt to deduce a relationship between the two variables. Appropriate methods of forming relationships between independent and dependent variables will be used.

The major resources that the study will utilize will be financial, human resources, and time. The finance aspect will be used to purchase the research tools, the papers for formulating the questionnaires and to meet any costs from the research. The distance to be traveled in the administration and the large sample that is required may also pose a challenge to research, which may be overcome through adequate planning (Bryman, Teevan, & Bell, 2012). The research will be conducted in major cities in North America, which will be chosen based on the resources available and convenience. Some of the people to be interviewed include state officials working in the criminal justice system, the prison wardens, and the prisoners. The penal institutions will be included in the research. An analysis of the prisoner information will be done to establish the racial origin of these individuals. For the conviction rates of the ethnic and racial groups, the judicial system will be approached to provide the research with appropriate data regarding the convictions that have taken place over the last decade. Some of the questions that will be asked include the number of specific races in the penal institutions and the reasons for their being there.

Probability sampling will be used to sample the respondents were necessary due to the recognized accuracy that the results may bear if this method is used. Various methods will be used to eliminate any form of biasness. The sampling method is one of them. The study will also establish the social and geographic factors of the participants and the institutions. Knowledge of the factors will help in backing up the reviewed studies and in establishing some of the reasons for the high incarceration rates in certain races. The methods of data presentation that will be chosen after the analysis of the data obtained will depend on the type of data that is obtained. Graphical presentation of the information will give readers the best presentation of results. Some of the challenges in the methodology include the lack of appropriate tools to process the data obtained and to facilitate the study and the time required in the processing of the data. Labor will be required in the actual study. Payment for the services may be necessary. It may further inflate the total cost of the study. However, the cost could be reduced by the use of efficient methods and a smaller sample choice.


Based on the methodology and the direction taken in the literature review, the study is likely to produce conclusive reports that are related to the above findings because the reviewed literature indicates that the number of ethnic and racial minorities in the penal institutions is high. More factors in the study need further study, which may be carried out after the current study. These factors include the determination of the sexual predilection of the inmates within the same racial or ethnic population represented in the penal institutions and the ages of these inmates. Other factors include the number of offenses and the races of the judges and jury that determined their case in the court.

Some of the potential findings in the study relate to the literature review. It will not be a surprise to get the number of ethnic and racial minorities such as the Black Americans and the Hispanics being more than that of the other races and ethnicities. Some of the recommendations that this study would make to the academic community include the conducting of more studies to determine the familial relationship between the incarcerated individuals and the crimes they commit. It is also important that more studies be done in all the states in the US. In terms of policy, there is the need for the governments in North American states to review their criminal justice system to ensure that there is fairness in the judgments. The reason for the personal choice of the research is mainly the ease of carrying out the research and the availability of the needed materials. The research will go a long way in helping me to develop skills in research for future reference.


In conclusion, this research will investigate the existence of injustice in the criminal justice system in North America and particularly in the United States. The research question is, ‘Are incarceration rates much higher for the racial and ethnic minorities within North America?’ The study has sought to establish a literature search in an attempt to unravel the answer to the question under scrutiny. The literature review carried included many observations that reinforced the existence of this injustice. The main races and ethnicities that were affected in the US were the Black Americans and the Hispanics. Some of the reasons for their higher rates of incarceration were provided in the research ranging from the high crime rates that were prevalent in their population. This research will add to the literature besides helping me in establishing the current state of the problem.

Reference List

Bosworth, M. (2004). Theorizing race and imprisonment: Towards a new penalty. Critical Criminology, 12(2), 221-242.

Bridges, S., Crutchfield, D., & Simpson, E. (1987). Crime, social structure and criminal punishment: White and nonwhite rates of imprisonment. Social Problems, 34(4), 345-361.

Bryman, A., Teevan, J., & Bell, E. (2012). Social Research Methods: Third Canadian edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Johnson, J. (2011). Mass incarceration: A contemporary mechanism of racialization in the United States. Gonzaga Law Review, 47(2), 301.

Percival, L. (2010). Ideology, diversity, and imprisonment: Considering the influence of local politics on racial and ethnic minority incarceration rates. Social Science Quarterly, 91(4), 1063-1082.

Warrens, P., Chiricos, T., & Bales, W. (2012). The imprisonment penalty for young black and Hispanic males: A crime-specific analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 49(1), 56-80.