Poor White Kids Are Less Likely to Go to Prison than Rich Black Kids

Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post, March 23, 2016

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“Race trumps class, at least when it comes to incarceration,” said Darrick Hamilton of the New School, one of the researchers who produced the study.

He and his colleagues, Khaing Zaw and William Darity of Duke University, examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a national study that began in 1979 and followed a group of young people into adulthood and middle age. The participants were asked about their assets and debts, and interviewers also noted their type of residence, including whether they were in a jail or prison.

The researchers grouped participants in the survey by their race and their household wealth as of 1985 and then looked back through the data to see how many people in each group ultimately went to prison. Participants who were briefly locked up between interviews might not be included in their calculations of the share who were eventually incarcerated.

About 2.7 percent of the poorest white young people–those whose household wealth was in the poorest 10th of the distribution in 1985, when they were between 20 and 28 years old–ultimately went to prison. In the next 10th, 3.1 percent ultimately went to prison.

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About 10 percent of affluent black youths in 1985 would eventually go to prison. Only the very wealthiest black youth–those whose household wealth in 1985 exceeded $69,000 in 2012 dollars–had a better chance of avoiding prison than the poorest white youth. Among black young people in this group, 2.4 percent were incarcerated.

Hispanic participants who were less affluent in 1985 were more likely to be eventually incarcerated than their white peers with similar wealth, but less likely than black participants.

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