Racial Disparity in Connecticut Prisons on the Decline, Report Says
Since 2008, the percentage of African Americans incarcerated in Connecticut has dropped by 22 percent, according to the report, as Office of Policy and Management Under Secretary Mike Lawlor told the state’s Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission on Thursday.
During the same time period, the percentage of Latinos in Connecticut prisons has dropped by 23 percent, while the number of white prisoners has dropped by just six percent.
When looking at the last 10 years, the number of Black prisoners in Connecticut has dropped by 18 percent. The number of Latino prisoners has gone down by 10 percent over the past 10 years while, according to Lawlor, the percentage of white prisoners has actually gone up.
“These are very dramatic changes over a very short period of time,” Lawlor told committee members. “We can take in the fact that these things have been accomplished.”
As Lawlor told committee members, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is setting a national goal of reducing the prison population by 50 percent in five years, though Connecticut may be well on its way already. The total number of prisoners in the state has dropped about 20 percent over the past seven years.
As of Thursday, there was a total of 16,158 people incarcerated in Connecticut, the vast majority of whom are minorities.
The report does note that “Despite the significant decline in the state’s prison population across all races, there are still twice as many blacks and Hispanics as whites in Connecticut prisons, even though whites outnumber blacks and Hispanics by an almost 3-to-1 ratio in the state’s general population.
The report was officially released on Thursday at a summit on mass incarceration that included, among others, Holder, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.Y., former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black.
“This thing has turned into Woodstock for criminal justice,” Civil Rights activist and event organizer Van Jones, told Vice.com before the event. “People are going to look at photographs of this and swear it was photoshopped.”
The report looked at prison populations in three states, Connecticut, Georgia, and North Carolina. The most dramatic drop in racial disparity was seen in North Carolina, where African-American and Hispanic prison admissions dropped by 26 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Georgia saw prison admissions fall by 8 percent over the last three years, with admissions among African Americans falling by 11 percent.
Lawlor, quoted in the report itself, credited “a thousand small things acting together” for the reduction in both the prison population and the easing of racial disparity in the state’s prisons.
“We want the criminal justice system to focus on violent crimes, crimes involving domestic violence, urban gun violence, sexual assault — violent, predatory crimes,” Lawlor wrote. “It’s really a thousand small things acting together that are starting to result in a drop in prison numbers, the crime rate, and racial disparity in prisons.”
According to Holder, 30 percent of Americans identified as black or Hispanic in 2011, while the U.S. prison population was 60 percent black and Hispanic that same year, “a disparity that is simply too stark.”
“These statistics describe a nation at odds with the promise of its founding, and in tension with its most vital ideals,” Holder said during a speech Thursday at the Washington summit. “They demand that we examine our institutions and reorient our practices to create the more perfect Union that our earliest citizens imagined and the more just society that all Americans deserve.”
Lawlor, speaking to committee members, also said that recidivism in Connecticut has gone down significantly. The number of people returning to prison within three years of their release is down 11 percent since the state adopted a system of risk-reduction credits.
Though he did credit the implementation of that program, Lawlor said the reduction in recidivism was the result of “a lot of factors.” He also noted that the youth incarceration rate is dropping considerably in Connecticut, at a greater rate than it is dropping nationwide.
“What we’re seeing here is a very significant change in who is coming into the criminal justice system,” Lawlor said.