A new study examining the links between race, wealth, and incarceration found that, while poor youth of all races were more likely than wealthy kids to go to prison, the likelihood of incarceration was higher for African Americans at every level of wealth compared to white youth.
Researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which gathered data between 1979 and 2012 from nearly 13,000 young men and women. They found that wealthy Black kids were more likely to go to prison than poor white kids. While about 2.7 percent of the poorest white youth ended up in prison, 10 percent of affluent Black youths ultimately went to prison.
The incarceration rate for African Americans in the highest wealth bracket – 2.4 percent – was only slightly less than that for the poorest whites.
The data showed that poor Hispanics had a higher incarceration rate than poor whites, but lower than poor African Americans; at higher levels of wealth, however, the likelihood of incarceration for Hispanic males was similar to that of white males.
Study co-author William Darity of Duke said that these findings “demonstrate that wealth does not provide the same degree of insulation from imprisonment for Black and Hispanic males as it does for white males.”
“Race trumps class, at least when it comes to incarceration,” co-author Darrick Hamilton of the New School told the Washington Post.
The study also found that African Americans are far less likely than whites to accumulate wealth. The median household wealth of African Americans who were never incarcerated was $16,200 in 2012, compared to $192,000 for whites who had never been incarcerated. For those who had been incarcerated, the median wealth for African Americans was zero, compared with $5000 for whites.