Racial disparities in criminal convictions

Other Names:
Indigenous bias in sentencing offenders
Ethnic discrimination by the judiciary
Disproportionate coloured prisoners
Active prejudice towards non-white criminals
Asymmetric jailing of minority populations

At every step, discriminatory practices and a biased system work against a minority, indigenous or coloured accused, from the moment a person is first identified by police, to their appearance before a judge, to their hearing before a parole board.


In 2018 it was reported that in the U.S. black men are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white men. In Canada, the Indigenous incarceration rate is 10 times higher than the non-Indigenous population—higher even than South Africa at the height of apartheid; in Saskatchewan, if you’re Indigenous, you’re 33 times more likely to be incarcerated, according to a 1999 report.

According to US Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on 2005 rates of first incarceration, an estimated 32% of black males will enter state or federal prison during their lifetime, compared to 17% of Hispanic males and 5.9% of white males. In other words, one third of black men can expect to be incarcerated during their life times if they live in the United States. In 1991, it was estimated that 25% of black men in the 20 to 29 age group was in prison, on parole or on probation, compared with 6.2% in the case of white men and 10% in the case of Hispanics. The number of black men under the control of the criminal justice system -- 609,690 -- exceeded the number of black men of all ages enrolled in higher education -- 436,000 (a Harvard education costs $20,000 a year, about half of what it costs to keep a convict in a federal high-security prison for a year.) From 1984-1988, the black community's percentage of all drug arrests nationally increased from 30 to 38% (black make up about 11% of the population).

In the UK in 1993, 17% of male prisoners over 21 were non-white, although only 6% of all men of the same age are from minority groups. Most pronounced were Afro-Caribbeans, who made up 10.6% of the prison population and accounted for 29.2% of prisoners convicted for drug offences, 13.6% for rape, 13.3% for robbery, and 9.5% for fraud. Although the conviction rate of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis was not significantly different from other ethnic group in the population (3.0% of the prison population), they accounted for 8.2% of drugs convictions and 6.6% for fraud and forgery sentences.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST