Study Finds Hispanics Disproportionately Incarcerated in Private Prisons


new study out of Oregon State University found that hispanics are disproportionately incarcerated at state and federal private prisons. And that’s not counting federal facilities contracted to house immigrant prisoners.

The combined population of hispanic and african american inmates in private prisons was also found to be 4% higher than that of public institutions, which researchers called ‘significant.’

They were, however, unable to confirm the source of this racial disparity, but speculated that “private firms may prefer healthier inmates, which tend to be young, non-white inmates; or the assignments may be tied to prisoners’ gang affiliations.”


The disparity in prison placement is not linked to higher overall incarceration rates of Hispanics. It appears to stem from the process in which inmates are assigned to a correctional facility, Burkhardt said. How those decisions are made is unclear; they typically are handled by prison administrators. The research indicates there is a racial pattern to inmate assignment at correctional facilities, which also could raise legal concerns for corrections officials, he said.

I’ll throw my own speculation into the mix: governments under contract to meet occupancy quotas may prefer to send private prisons inmates with longer sentences to avoid having to deal with turnover. Even if you don’t factor for their rate of incarceration, hispanics and african americans still serve prison terms 4-5 months longer than whites on average.

Whatever you do, just don’t tell any of this to white people. A different, also-depressing study from Stanford found that if you’re white and, let’s say, reading posts like this one on racial disparities in incarceration, you might not be moved to support reform. In fact, if you’re white, this information might actually bolster your support for the policies that create such disparity in the first place.

Brian Sonenstein
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein is a Berkeley-based writer, activist and former Campaign Director and Associate Publisher for Learn more at
Brian Sonenstein
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