U.S. prisoners by race

According to the Bureau of Justice, in 2018, there were more than 1.2 million prisoners in state and federal prisons. Of those, 465,200 were Black, 430,500 were White, and 330,200 were Hispanic.

In order to fully appreciate this data, it’s helpful to know the breakdown of the total U.S. population by race. While the majority of the U.S. population is White (60.4% identifies as White, non-Hispanic), there are more total Black prisoners than White ones. The U.S. population as a whole is 13.4% Black, but roughly 38% of the prison population in 2018 was Black.

In an equal society, we would expect that the prison population would have roughly the same makeup as the overall population. This is especially true since we incarcerate so many people in this country and therefore have an unusually large sample size. In other words, we would expect roughly 13.4% of the prison population to be Black, not 38%.

The Hispanic population is also over-represented in this data. While 18.3% of the overall population identifies as Hispanic, nearly 27% of the prison population in 2018 was Hispanic.

Total U.S. prisoners by race

(sentenced prisoners under jurisdiction of state or federal authorities)

20142015201620172018
White461,500450,200440,200436,500430,500
Black518,700499,400487,300475,900465,200
Hispanic338,900333,200339,600336,500330,200
Total1,319,1001,282,8001,267,1001,248,9001,225,900
Source: Bureau of Justice, Prisoners in 2018 report.
https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=269

Percentage of U.S. prisoners by race

20142015201620172018
White35.0%35.1%34.7%35.0%35.1%
Black39.3%38.9%38.5%38.1%37.9%
Hispanic25.7%26.0%26.8%26.9%26.9%
Source: Bureau of Justice, Prisoners in 2018 report. Author’s calculations
https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=269

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