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NY Admits Major Race Disparities in Prisons, Denies Systemic Racism

The New York inspector general’s office has documented significant racial and ethnic disparities in discipline across state prisons, finding that over a six-year period, Black inmates were 22 percent more likely to be disciplined than white ones, reports the New York Times. The report by Inspector General Lucy Lang comes six years after the Times published an investigation into racial bias in state prisons. The newspaper found that Black prisoners faced more punishment than white ones, leading to loss of privileges, longer stays in solitary confinement and, ultimately, more time behind bars. State inspectors reviewed 385,057 misbehavior reports filed from 2015 through 2020. They found that the discrepancies had worsened over time, most significantly in 2020, when Black prisoners were 38 percent more likely, and Hispanic prisoners 29 percent more likely, to be cited in misbehavior reports.

The inspector general said the discrepancies were most pronounced for violations that were arguably more subjective. The largest disparities were for offenses like gang activity, assaults on other inmates and “involvement in a demonstration detrimental to facility order,” which saw Black prisoners five times more likely, and Hispanic prisoners three times, to be found in violation than white inmates. “Notably, many of the rules that the white incarcerated population was more likely to be charged ... with violating were less subjective, offering less opportunity for bias,” the report says, noting examples like tattooing and failing a drug test. The report stopped short of attributing the disparities to racial bias, saying that while inequalities existed across the criminal justice system, existing data were not sufficient to support a finding of systemic racism. The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which oversees 25,000 corrections employees and nearly 31,000 prisoners, said that it recognized that racial disparities were present across the criminal justice system from arrest to sentencing to re-entry.

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