Study Finds Racial Disparities in US Prisons Worsened During COVID-19 Pandemic - medtigo



Study Finds Racial Disparities in US Prisons Worsened During COVID-19 Pandemic

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A recent study published in Nature has found that racial disparities in US prisons were worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite a historical decrease of at least 17% in the US prison population during the first year of the pandemic, the study found that incarcerated white people benefited disproportionately from this decrease, while the fraction of incarcerated Black and Latino people sharply increased, reversing a decade-long trend before 2020. 

The study used an original dataset curated from public sources on prison demographics across all 50 states and the District of Columbia to examine the racial composition of US prisons during the pandemic. The findings reveal that disparities in average sentence length were a significant contributor to the increase in the proportion of incarcerated Black and Latino people, suggesting that racial inequities in sentencing practices have been amplified during the pandemic. The study argues that COVID-19 worsened racial disparities in the legal system due to policy unevenness and process disruptions and highlights fundamental forces that sustain mass incarceration. 

To ensure the accuracy of the collected data, the researchers compared it to data from other organizations that report statistics about the US prison population, such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Vera Institute for Justice. The study’s dataset includes both male and female incarcerated people, including non-binary and transgender individuals in some states, and also separated incarcerated race statistics by “male,” “female,” and “total” in 27 states. This information is crucial in understanding the racial and gender disparities in the criminal justice system and how the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. 

The study’s findings reveal how disruptions caused by COVID-19 amplified racial inequalities in the criminal legal system. Still, they provide valuable insights for policymakers and advocates seeking to address this issue. The study’s authors have publicly released the data associated with their work, available at Zenodo, to facilitate further research. 

Addressing the racial disparities in the US prison system will require sustained efforts by policymakers, advocates, and researchers. The insights provided by this study offer an essential starting point. It is crucial to monitor changes in prison populations and understand how they vary across states to better inform policies and address inequities in the US carceral system. 

The US prison system has been the subject of scrutiny and debate for decades. It is crucial to have accurate and up-to-date information on the prison population to inform discussions around issues such as criminal justice reform, prison overcrowding, and racial and gender disparities in the criminal justice system.

The study collected time series data about states’ prison populations over time, seeking the most temporally resolved data possible. The most common form of data collected was the number of people incarcerated at a given time in a given state on a monthly timescale. 

In conclusion, the study highlights the importance of accurate and comprehensive data in informing discussions around criminal justice reform and addressing racial and gender disparities in the criminal justice system. The findings of this study call for sustained efforts by policymakers, advocates, and researchers to address these disparities, which have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


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