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Minority Populations
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 02/01/2016

Inmate jail

Our topic this month coincides with the recent birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I will examine minority prison populations and what the statistics reflect. I will first begin by sharing some of the data and provide some percentages for total offenders under supervision; incarcerated by race (Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic); some of the challenges faced by corrections in managing these offenders, and other information.

I felt it was important to begin by reviewing some statistical information and then lead into some of the challenges and issues encountered with minority populations. When discussing minority populations we tend to focus on African America and Hispanic offenders. However, I provided another population to consider; immigration offenders. There are approximately 19,000 “people in federal prison for criminal convictions of violating federal immigration laws.” At the same time, approximately 30,000 are “civilly detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).” These individuals are housed in immigration detention facilities contracted with ICE. (Immigration detention: William Selway and Margaret Newkirk, “Congress Mandates Jail Beds for 34,000 Immigrants”, Bloomberg News, September 24, 2013).

I should note, when you review research data, also check and see if the following populations are included: American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, and persons of two or more races. I am sure I missed some and this was not intentional. The primary ethnicity of offenders will be Caucasian, African American, and Hispanics. Below, I included the last set of statistics to consider. These are from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2014, dated September 2015, NCJ 248955.

“An estimated 516,900 black males were in state or federal prison at yearend 2014, accounting for 37% of the male prison population. White males made up 32% of the male prison population (453,500 prison inmates), followed by Hispanics (308,700 inmates or 22%). White females (53,100 prisoners) in state or federal prison at yearend 2014 outnumbered both black (22,600) and Hispanic (17,800) females.” These statistics are interesting and at the same time alarming. I suggest you take some time to research the reference provided for Prisons in 2014.

When I think of managing these offenders and challenges, I immediately think of ‘safety and security concerns.’ These safety and security concerns can affect other inmates, staff, and officers. Dependent on geographic location, crimes committed, security risks, behavior, and other variables, we often face problems with over representation of one particular race in the facility. We also have to look at the racial composition of each barracks. This has a snowball effect and can quickly escalate into other safety and security concerns. We also need to look at the race of staff and officers by shift and make sure they received training and are familiar with various races and cultures. As you can see, we are only touching on some basic issues and concerns that can erupt into a volatile situation quickly.

Trying to find a balance and yet maintain security and control are daily challenges. Dependent on the type of offenders housed, often there are language barriers. Are any staff and officers available to interpret for offenders, staff, and officers? If there are none, what are the facility plans of actions in the event some interpreters are requested? Again, this can create delays and problems when there are racial conflicts and language barriers prevent the interviewing of some offenders. This can occur during visitation, classification actions (various types), medical and mental health requests, etc.

This day and age with the ever increasing use of social media and other outlets, we have to recognize any racial issues and concerns in the community and throughout the world. This can be the catalyst that triggers something else within our facilities. In addition, we have to be aware of and monitor any security issues and concerns.

We know drug laws contributed to a large percentage of drug offenders incarcerated. This can be researched by race as well. There are sentencing disparities and other issues that surface as well, adding to this ongoing dilemma. We also need to look at what support mechanisms are available to assist our staff and officers with an already stressful job. Are there any programs within our various facilities for involvement of offenders? What plans are in place to deal with these areas I mentioned? Are all staff and officers aware of these protocols? As you can see there are a lot of unanswered questions that need resolution. We must control for any potential problem areas prior to these escalating to more dangerous levels.

Yes, I know I am only scratching the surface and there are a lot of questions unanswered. The fact remains, part of our goals are to maintain a safe and secure environment, not only for the offender population, but for our staff and officers as well.

I hope I have piqued your curiosity and interest into further dialogue and research. Meanwhile, stay safe out there.

Best regards, Terry

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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