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The White Privilege Series: The Realities of Incarceration

bicultural familia_the white privilege series_the realitities of incarceration

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“.

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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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  • Glenn Robinson
    September 25, 2011 at 12:50 am

    I knew that my Hispanic, Latino, Mexica brothers and sisters had been counted as ‘white’ for some of the censuses as part of the agreement after the Mexican-American war, to avoid being segregated due to Jim Crow laws. But I just learned something new about Hispanic, Latino, Mexica’s being counted as ‘white’ in prison statistics.    

    • Chantilly Patiño
      September 25, 2011 at 1:31 am

      Thanks for the comment Glenn.  Yeah, I learned of this a few years back while going through prison records.  All the Latinos were listed as “White”…it was pretty disturbing.  I’m glad to bring something new to the table and I hope that it will make more individuals aware of just how extreme the problem is.  After the execution of Troy Davis, many still had the gall to claim that racism does not play a role in our justice system and that is a completely inaccurate assumption.

  • Glenn Robinson
    September 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    You're right. The ratio of people of color in the prison industrial complex shows massive discrimination against people of color. The 'war on drugs' really turned into a war on people of color. "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alex digs deep into this serious injustice within the U.S. criminal INjustice system. 


    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      September 24, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      Thanks so much for the book recommendation!  I heard about this recently, but still haven't read it.  Definitely putting it at the top of my list!

  • Me and the Mexican
    September 25, 2011 at 1:13 am

    thanks for the statistics!  I had no idea latinos/hispanics were being counted as white.  Glad you are educating us!  Keep on keeping on amiga mia!

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      September 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      Tara, thanks for stopping by and I hope you'll share this with individuals who don't understand the connection between the operations of our criminal justice system and racism. <3

  • Eryn
    March 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    The difference between how crack possession & powered cocaine possession is punished with prison sentences is really staggering. Anyone who says there is not racism or at the very least, classism, rampant in our justice system is a fool.My husband is a mixed-race Latino correctional officer in our states maximum security penitentiary.  He says in no way do the demographics inside the prison represent our state. The state IS trying to initiate programs that reduce the recidivism rates of minority inmates and is trying to get the demographics of staff to more accurately match the demographics of the inmates (paying officers that fluently speak other languages more, etc), but it's slow going & really isn't enough. This is a topic discussed in our house quiet often. It's nice to see other bloggers talking about it.We've seen a disproportionate spike in inmates incarcerated for gang-related violence in the last 5 years, which is a whole other topic for discussion on what we can do in our own communities to affect change.Enjoyed this post very much, my friend. 

    • biculturalmom
      March 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Eryn.  I'm sorry it took me a little while to reply.  I've been out sick.  ;)  Really interesting to hear about your husband's experience.  I agree with you…in so many places there is next to nothing being done and bringing in diverse staff seems to be such a slow and half-hearted effort on the part of law enforcement and corrections facilities.  It isn't nearly enough.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be for your husband to see what he does and go to work each day knowing about the inequalities that he alone can't change.  This is a topic that gets a lot of attention at our house too and it's one that far too many talk about because we're quicker to punish individuals than we are to concern ourselves with issues like JUSTICE.  Really a disappointment to see that our country really hasn't come that far from Jim Crow…we've just changed the way the game operates.  Thanks for sharing and I definitely look forward to continuing this conversation with you.  <3