Rhode Island School-To-Prison Pipeline: Disproportionate Arrest Rates


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


The School-To-Prison Pipeline: Disproportionate Arrest Rates

Under all these circumstances, it should come as little surprise that arrest rates for black Rhode Islanders also generally eclipse those for non-black Rhode Islanders. In fact, these disparities are higher than in some of the cities and towns known nationwide as facing racial conflicts. In 2014, while the country watched the aftermath of long- simmering tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, USA Today issued a sobering report that contained data about arrest disparities in Rhode Island.15

Using data reported to the FBI by law enforcement in 2011 and 2012, USA Today examined thirteen Rhode Island police departments and found that every one of them disproportionately arrested blacks at rates vastly higher than the disparity found among arrests in Ferguson. In 2012, Ferguson police arrested black individuals at a rate 2.8 times higher than non-blacks based on the city’s resident population. In stark contrast, the Rhode Island police departments that were analyzed arrested black individuals at rates up to 9.1 times higher than the rate for non-blacks, or, put another way, 331.8 black arrests per 1,000 residents compared to just 36.3 non-black arrests.

That these disparities exist in so many major communities in Rhode Island and to such high extremes clearly suggests that an outside factor beyond faulty statistics or “bad apples” is at work.

A look at one particular crime offers rather startling evidence of this thesis. In 2010, according to a report by the ACLU, “14% of Blacks and 12% of whites reported using marijuana in the past year.”16 Were arrest rates for marijuana possession to reflect actual use, we would expect to see roughly equal arrest rates among black and white individuals, such as 200 arrests per 100,000 individuals.

It is only for white Rhode Islanders, however, that 200 arrests per 100,000 individuals is the truth. In 2010, 524 black Rhode Islanders were arrested for marijuana possession per 100,000 black individuals.17 This means that black Rhode Islanders statewide were 2.6 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Looking at each county individually, the disparities go much higher; in Bristol County, blacks were up to 7.4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white individual living and using marijuana down the road.

The report further noted that these arrest rates were consistently high over the last decade.

Previously: Racial Profiling In Traffic Stops                          Next: Disproportionate Prison Representation
15Heath, Brad. “Racial gap in U.S. arrest rates: ‘Staggering disparity’.” USA Today. November 19, 2014.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/18/ferguson-black-arrest-rates/19043207
16American Civil Liberties Union. The War on Marijuana in Black and White.”  (2013) Page 21. http://riaclu.org/images/uploads/The_War_on_Marijuana_in_Black_and_White.pdf
17Ibid., p. 174.