Prisoner-staff racial disparity shows need for Census reform

by Peter Wagner, October 6, 2003

It comes as no surprise that prisoners resemble the communities from which they come, and that prison staff resemble the communities that host the prisons. But what may be a surprise is just how different these two groups are.

According to our recent study, more than half of all prisoners are Black, but only 20% of the prison jobs are held by Black staff. Only 64 prisons in the country have been able to hire Black staff in proportion to the number of Black prisoners; and not a single one of these prisons is located outside the South or the urban cities of the North.

Despite a concerted effort by prison administrators to increase staff diversity, prison staff remain overwhelming white because the prisons themselves are increasingly being built in rural areas rather than in the urban and predominantly minority areas from which most prisoners originate.

This racial disparity between prisoners and staff is another way of illustrating that prisoners tend to come from very different communities than the prisons are physically located in. Counting prisoners in their true communities would give us a more accurate picture of the size and needs of all our communities.

See: Peter Wagner and Rose Heyer, AlterNet, September 25, 2003.

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