The Scourge of Racial Bias in New York State’s Prisons

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From The New York Times:

A New York Times investigation draws on nearly 60,000 disciplinary cases from state prisons and interviews with inmates to explore the system’s inequities and the ripple effect they can have.

The racism can be felt from the moment black inmates enter New York’s upstate prisons.

They describe being called porch monkeys, spear chuckers and worse. There are cases of guards ripping out dreadlocks. One inmate, John Richard, reported that he was jumped at Clinton Correctional Facility by a guard who threatened to “serve up some black mashed potatoes with tomato sauce.”

“As soon as you come through receiving, they let you know whose house it is,” said Darius Horton, who was recently released from Groveland Correctional Facility after serving six years for assault.

Most forbidding are the maximum-security penitentiaries — Attica, Clinton, Great Meadow — in rural areas where the population is almost entirely white and nearly every officer is too. The guards who work these cellblocks rarely get to know a black person who is not behind bars.

Whether loud and vulgar or insinuated and masked, racial bias in the state prison system is a fact of life.

It is also measurable.

A review by The New York Times of tens of thousands of disciplinary cases against inmates in 2015, hundreds of pages of internal reports and three years of parole decisions found that racial disparities were embedded in the prison experience in New York.

In most prisons, blacks and Latinos were disciplined at higher rates than whites — in some cases twice as often, the analysis found. They were also sent to solitary confinement more frequently and for longer durations. At Clinton, a prison near the Canadian border where only one of the 998 guards is African-American, black inmates were nearly four times as likely to be sent to isolation as whites, and they were held there for an average of 125 days, compared with 90 days for whites.

A greater share of black inmates are in prison for violent offenses, and minority inmates are disproportionately younger, factors that could explain why an inmate would be more likely to break prison rules, state officials said. But even after accounting for these elements, the disparities in discipline persisted, The Times found.

The disparities were often greatest for infractions that gave discretion to officers, like disobeying a direct order. In these cases, the officer has a high degree of latitude to determine whether a rule is broken and does not need to produce physical evidence. The disparities were often smaller, according to the Times analysis, for violations that required physical evidence, like possession of contraband.

Read the full article here.