Bad Statistics About Bad Things

Critics of policing and mass incarceration make a basic statistical mistake.  Men represent less than half the population of the country but over 90% of those incarcerated.  But no one says the system is sexist.  That is because men commit more crime.  Comparing population numbers to incarceration rates gives a false picture.  Crime rates should be compared to incarceration rates.

Why are groups imprisoned at higher rates than their representation in the population?  The first question must be whether these groups are doing things that get you imprisoned at higher rates than their representation in the population.  Unfortunately, for many, the analysis goes something like this: look at the percentage of the population that belongs to the group, look at that group’s representation in prison, and draw a conclusion.

 

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