The USA incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizen than any other nation on earth. (We're #1!) Needless to say, we've accomplished that feat largely on the backs of minorities, particularly black people, who are incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white people. But, as unthinkable as it may have been not long ago, some elements of this trend are actually turning around for the better.
A new report from The Sentencing Project finds that the past decade has shown a marked decline in incarceration of black people in America. From 2000 to 2009, the incarceration rate of white men rose 8.5%, and of white women, 47%(!). For black people, the story was the opposite: during the same decade, incarceration rates in state and federal prison for black men fell by 9.8%, and for black women, by 30.7%(!).
Those numbers are huge, particularly for black women. Why the change? There are no pat answers, unfortunately, because we love pat answers. The report points to factors including: falling crime rates; changes in drug sentencing laws and mandatory sentencing; changes in the types of crimes being committed by different demographics; and socioeconomic changes. Feel free to speculate wildly in the comment section without reading the carefully assembled report, also.
The broader takeaway is that the racial mix of those we incarcerate (particularly women) is changing, but the fact of America's mass incarceration is not. "The overall rate of incarceration in the United States remains at five times the rate that prevailed in 1970."