Mass incarceration, inevitable bias, and supreme court staying executions, oh my!

In 1970, 200,000 people were incarcerated in the United States.  That represented .09% of the US population.

In 2011, 2,300,000 people are incarcerated in the US.  That represents .73% of the US population.

Since 1970, the incarcerated population has grown 11.5 times (1150%) and the per capita incarceration rate has grown 818%.

The burden is borne mostly on black males.  One in three men age 18-30 in the South are either on probation, parole or in prison.  Over 34% of black men in Alabama have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions.  In McKlesky v. Kemp, the Supreme Court found that in Georgia, defendants charged with killing white victims were 4.3 times as likely to receive a death sentence as defendants charged with killing blacks.  Although in McKlesky the court found that “a certain amount of bias is inevitable,”  the court this week stayed two different executions one of which was for Duane Buck.  During the sentencing phase of Buck’s trial, a psychologist was allowed to testify that black men have a higher recidivism rate than white men.  Buck received the death penalty.  Ironically, it was the defense counsel who called the psychologist as a witness.  You can read about Buck’s stay here.

Bryan Stevenson is an attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative and details the severity and scope of the problem in a presentation given to Washington University School of Law here.  You may want to skip the first 20 minutes or so of introductions.

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