Fact check: Sanders' claim about spending on American prisons

Senator Sanders while speaking about his presidential campaign mentioned how much Americans are spending on its prisons, he claimed the following:

Bernie Sanders on Twitter

We are spending $80 billion a year to lock up 2.2 million people, disproportionately African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. We need real, comprehensive criminal justice reform. We must invest in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration. https://t.co/7tn2uHVmCq

Claim 1: 

” We are spending $80 billion a year to lock up 2.2 million people”

Fact check 1: True. 

A report by the committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has previously investigated this issue in 2015, it cited a report by the Hamilton Project at Brookings Ins that found ” In 2010, federal, state, and local agencies spent a combined $80 billion on corrections or $260 per U.S. resident”.


Claim 2: 

“disproportionately African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans”

Fact check 2: True

Because Hispanic and Latino Americans are not considered a race but an ethnicity this part of the claim must be compared separately. However, when strictly comparing the 2010 U.S. Census data on the racial makeup of the U.S. population and the racial statistics of federal prison inmates per the Bureau of Federal Prisons we find that the majority of people in the U.S. identified as White and no other race  at 72.40% while the Federal Bureau of Prisons lists the inmate population as 58.20% White. Comparing this to the clearly disproportionate 12.60% of individuals who identified as Black or African American in the 2010 U.S. Census and the overwhelming 38% which make up the federal prison population we see this is the greatest impact to a single racial group with more than three times the number of incarcerated individuals per capita. Finally combining both Native Americans and Alaska Natives at 0.9% and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders at 0.2% for a total of 1.10% per the U.S. Census statistics we find that double that amount 2.20% are imprisoned in federal penitentiaries.

Addressing the ethnic makeup of federally incarcerated individuals the Bureau of Federal Prisons lists inmates by ethnicity at a ratio of nearly one third or 32.2% of all inmates are of Hispanic and/or Latino ethnicity. Where the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017 found that 18.1% of the total U.S. population is Hispanic and/or Latino.

So Senator Sanders’ claim of impacting these specific ethnic and racial groups disproportionately is clearly demonstrated in these figures.

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