I-Team 8

Study: Black Hoosiers are going to prison at a rate 5x times higher than whites

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — According to The Sentencing Project, Blacks make up one in every 11 people in Indiana. However, in prison, Blacks are one out of every three people.

“(Black and brown people) are more likely to be stopped by the police,” said Jessica Eaglin, a professor at IU Maurer Law School who specializes in sentencing trends. “Convictions, and then sentencing, can all lead to disparities along racial lines.”

Eaglin says the problem begins with policing. Black Hoosiers are imprisoned at a rate nearly five times more than whites, according to The Sentencing Project. Eaglin says Indiana has worked to combat this disparity.

“(Indiana, like many states is) implementing drug courts, which are specialized diversionary programs,” she said.

Still, Eaglin explains those programs, which are meant to divert someone to community treatment services, can still be harmful to communities of color when it comes to meeting certain conditions.

“(It) can be whether you have had contact with the criminal justice system before. Have you been arrested? Have you been convicted of a crime, even a low level crime?” said Eaglin. “The Black community is much more likely to have had some kind of contact with the criminal justice system.” 

Early contact is where Central Indiana Community Foundation wants to step in.

“Keeping people out of the system period — that’s the front end of the system. And so right now, our investments have been at the school (level),” said CICF Director of Community Leadership, Alicia Collins.

Collins says they’ve invested in programs that give kids more opportunity to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline.

“When a kid gets on the verge of suspension or expulsion, they bring in the family — not just the child — and they can bring community-based partners, their mental health workers, counselors, as well,” she said. 

Eaglin wrote a report in 2015 highlighting the increase of incarcerations by 61% since 1990. Her report shows that if that rate continues, one in every three Black boys will see incarceration in their lifetimes.