Racial Disparities in New York State's Correctional System

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities…” - Former Nixon Domestic Policy Chief John Ehrlichman

Drug Policy and Institutional Racism 


Race has played a critical role in shaping the war on drugs since its inception. While drug war policies were constructed to be ostensibly race neutral, aggressive law enforcement strategies have overwhelmingly targeted Black and Latino people. The drug war became the fuel for mass incarceration, causing the prison population to surge between the 1970s and the present day.

 

Prison Admissions Decline, Disparities remain

Percent of Annual Admissions for Felony Drug Possession (2015)

In 2016, the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a report examining trends in admissions to the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). Their analysis of two decades worth of data concluded that, from 1995-2015, the number of annual admissions to the New York City DOC dropped by 46.9%.While annual admissions have declined, racial disparities remain constant. Blacks, Latinos, and Whites all experienced a decline in admission over the course of the study period, but the number of Blacks admitted remained the highest throughout. Additionally, while the number of Black and Latino people admitted declined over the course of the study period, the percentage of Black and Latino people admitted did not experience a significant decline. Black people have consistently accounted for the largest percentage of admissions, with 54.3 percent in 1995 and 53.4 percent in 2015. Similarly, Latinos comprised 34.4 percent of admissions in 1995 and declined slightly to 32.8 percent by 2015.The Misdemeanor Justice Project report highlights the racial disparities that shape the New York City Department of Correction, while showing that a decline in total admissions does not affect racial disparities.

A New York Commission On Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

In order to reduce the prevalence of racial disparities within New York's criminal justice system, we are working to establish a New York State Commission tasked with examining  racial disparities at each stage of criminal justice interaction. Read more about DPA's campaign to establish and racial disparities commission here.