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In Brief: Examining the Changing Racial Composition of Three States' Prison Populations

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2015
8 pages
This brief focuses on changes in the racial composition of inmates in three States - Georgia, Connecticut, and North Carolina - after the implementation of legislative reforms that resulted in declines in the number of people admitted to prison.
In all three States, bipartisan groups of State leaders enacted major criminal justice reforms that subsequently resulted in a significant decline in the number of people incarcerated. This was due to a reduction in the overall number of people being admitted to prisons, with the steepest decline in admissions for Blacks and Hispanics. In Georgia, law reforms focused on reserving prison space for offenders who committed serious offenses. Penalties for certain offenses were modified, and probations officers are encouraged to impose graduated sanctions for violations. The State also invested in mental health and accountability courts, residential substance-use treatment, and a risk-assessment tool The implementation of these policies had the effect of reducing incarceration for nonviolent offenses, without regard to the race of the offender. Connecticut policymakers instituted major policy changes in 2004 and 2008 that were designed to address prison overcrowding and promote successful reentry for those returning to their communities after incarceration. Graduated sanctions were promoted for probation and parole violations, which reduced the number of probationers and parolees sent to prison for violations. From 2004 to 2005, the prison population declined just over 3 percent, from 18,523 to 17,928. The rate of reduction in incarceration among Blacks and Hispanics declined approximately 21 percent and 23 percent respectively, compared with an overall reduction of 6 percent for the total prison population. North Carolina enacted legislation that resembled that in Georgia and Connecticut, with the intention of reducing incarceration by managing nonviolent offenders in the community. A 21-percent decline occurred in prison admissions between 2011 and 2014, with the decline being especially pronounced for Blacks and Hispanics. 7 figures and 21 notes