why do some states have higher mass incarceration than others? comment on pamela oliver’s blog

with 4 comments

Over at Race, Politics, and Justice, Pamela Oliver asks why her home state of Wisconsin has such high rates of Black imprisonment in comparison to other states, even in times when rates are falling:

Wisconsin has stayed at the top of the pile in Black incarceration even though its Black incarceration rate has been declining. How can this be? The answer is that all the other states have been declining faster. By putting a scatter plot of state imprisonment rates on consistent axes, I’ve been able to produce a really cool animation effect.  The data source is the\ National Corrections Reporting Program public “in custody” file. Rates are calculation on entire population (all ages). States voluntarily participate in this data collection program and appear and disappear from the plot depending on whether they reported for the appropriate year. States are also eliminated if more than 10% of their inmates are recorded as having unknown race. You’ll see if watch long enough that the relative positions of most states stay the same, but the whole distribution starts  moving downward (lower Black incarceration rates) and to the left (lower White incarceration rates) in the last few years. You may download both these images and explanatory material in PDF format  using this link.

Interesting. This is a classic example of the “dog that didn’t bark.” What happened in other states that did not happen in Wisconsin? A few hypotheses: Wisconsin reflects particularly bad conditions in segregated places like Milwaukee; fixed effects of prosecutors – Wisconsin district attorney’s are notoriously bad; police enforcement is unusually harsh. Add your hypotheses or explanation in the comments.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 6, 2016 at 12:29 am

4 Responses

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  1. I don’t think you are following the point. Most states exhibited reductions in Black incarceration after 2000. The little picture shows Wisconsin’s Black rate going down while other states went down too. All you need to explain that is common forces affecting all states equally. Actually, Milwaukee has had a reform prosecutor since the end of 2007, and there has been a decline in Black imprisonment from Milwaukee since 2007. But that does not mean there were no reform prosecutors in other states. Or maybe reform prosecutors just think they are having effects, but really they are just part of secular trends. Between 1987 and 1992, virtually every state exhibited steep increases in Black imprisonment, mostly due to the drug war. Local people made local decisions, but in a context that favored mass incarceration. Since the early or mds 2000s, the larger social forces have been working in the other direction. I’ll have a longer time series of data available in a week or two, after I work my way through the “dirty data” problems.



    October 6, 2016 at 2:16 am

  2. Comment edit: my blog is sloppy: I said other states are declining faster. Actually, they seem to be declining at the same rate.



    October 6, 2016 at 2:49 am

  3. Dirty-data!! I love it. That describes all of the newspaper and TV news, which is why I don’t watch.



    October 6, 2016 at 1:02 pm

  4. P-Dub: Thanks for the note. Post corrected!



    October 6, 2016 at 4:31 pm

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