Report finds imprisonment rate of Black men has fallen by nearly 50% since 2000

WASHINGTON, DC – The Sentencing Project recently released a new report, “One in Five: Ending Racial Inequity in Incarceration,” that presents an overview of trends in incarceration and community supervision. The report identifies the progress made in the 21st century in reducing the U.S. prison population and its racial and ethnic disparities, while sounding the alarm about the future of reforms.  One in five Black men born in 2001 is likely to experience imprisonment within their lifetime, a decline from one in three for those born in 1981. But rather than accelerate the pace of reforms, pushback from policymakers threatens further advancement.

“One in Five: Ending Racial Inequity in Incarceration'' is the first report in a new four-part series called “One in Five'' that will examine racial inequities in America’s criminal legal system, and highlight tested reforms. The “One in Five” series will provide critical updates to The Sentencing Project’s “Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System” report, which was first released in 2015.

According to “One in Five: Ending Racial Inequity in Incarceration,” the imprisonment rate of Black men in 2021 declined substantially, falling by almost half (48%) since 2000, yet Black men were still imprisoned at 5.5 times the rate of white men. The imprisonment rate of Black women declined even more, by 70% since 2000, but Black women remained imprisoned at 1.6 times the rate of white women.

The report also found that:

The total prison population has declined by 25% after reaching its peak level in 2009.

While all major racial and ethnic groups experienced decarceration, the Black prison population has downsized the most.

American Indian and Latinx people were imprisoned at 4.2 times and 2.4 times the rate of whites in 2021, respectively. 

“While this first installment of the new ‘One in Five’ series clearly shows we have made progress, make no mistake: the United States remains fully in the era of mass incarceration,” said Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Co-Director of Research with The Sentencing Project and author of the report. “The 25% decline in the total prison population since 2009 follows a nearly 700% buildup in imprisonment since 1972, and the U.S. incarceration rate remains between five and eight times that of France, Canada, and Germany.”

 Ghandnoosh added, “Moreover, the momentum for continued progress is precarious. We’ve seen a backlash to the progress we’ve made on criminal justice reform, including a Congressional proposal to expand mandatory minimum sentences for certain federal drug offenses and a Congressional resolution overturning Washington, DC’s criminal code overhaul – both without objection from the Democratic president who campaigned on cutting incarceration by half. In fact, preliminary data from the Department of Justice shows that the prison population increased for the first time in almost a decade between 2021 and 2022.”

In an effort to protect and expand the progress, The Sentencing Project is producing the “One in Five” series of four reports to examine both the narrowing and persistence of racial injustice in the criminal legal system, as well as highlight promising reforms. 

The first installment presents an overview of incarceration and supervision trends. Subsequent reports in the series will focus on: 

The high levels of contact initiated by police, particularly with people of color, as well as differential crime rates. 

Release date: November 2023

Three key drivers of disparity from within the criminal legal system addressed by promising reforms from dozens of jurisdictions around the country.

Release date: December 2023

Criminal legal policies that jeopardize public safety by exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities and the reforms that correct this final source of injustice.

Release date: January 2024


 About The Sentencing Project - The Sentencing Project advocates for effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.