The variability of law enforcement and prosecution in Texas can also be seen in the race and ethnicity of those incarcerated in state facilities. In general, minorities represent disproportionately high numbers of those incarcerated. A survey done by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in August 2002, showed that African Americans constituted 41 percent of detainees - far above their portion of the population. This chapter's interactive feature Profiling Texas Prison Inmates allows you to compare the ethnic and racial characteristics of the state's inmate population in 1975 and 2002, and to explore the overall demographics of the prison population in those years.
Latinos constituted 28 percent of the inmate population, again higher than their numbers in the general population, but not as disproportionate as for African Americans. Whites constituted only 30 percent of the inmate population, even though they represent the largest single ethnic category in the general population.
These patterns are also reflected in the proportions of various minorities on death row. Of the inmates on death row as of March 18, 2008, 40.9 percent were African American and 27.9 percent were Latino.
As with any complex social problem, especially one involving race and ethnicity, the demographic over-representation of African Americans and Latinos, and under-representation of Anglos in the prison system has multiple causes. Statistically, for example, minorities tend to be poorer, and criminal activities tend to be inversely related to income and wealth. Critics of the criminal justice system argue that beneath such statistical descriptions are historical patterns that bear close examination. Despite legal progress in guaranteeing civil rights, African Americans and Latinos continue to bear the brunt of the punitive end of the criminal system, as the feature on this page illustrates. Debates continue over the relative importance of different factors such as poverty, the practices of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system, and other social factors.