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Half of federal felony offenders in 2011 have been Hispanic, says government report

A majority of people imprisoned by the federal government for felonies in 2011 have been Hispanic, according to a report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The Associated Press reports:

Hispanics reached a new milestone for the first time this year, making up the majority all federal felony offenders sentenced in the first nine months of fiscal year 2011, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Hispanics comprised 50.3 percent of all people sentenced in that time period, blacks 19.7 percent and whites 26.4 percent.

In comparison, last year Hispanics made up just 16 percent of the whole U.S. population.

The commission’s statistics also reveal that sentences for felony immigration crimes — which include illegal crossing and other crimes such as alien smuggling — were responsible for most of the increase in the number of Hispanics sent to prison over the last decade.

The reason that a majority of new federal prisoners are Hispanic is because the offenses which the federal government is most involved in policing are disproportionately enforced against Hispanics and other minorities, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a group that works towards reform of the criminal justice system.

“A lot of it is a function of policy and practice,” Mauer told The American Independent. “Both immigration cases and drug cases are fairly discretionary in terms of enforcement. If there’s a bank robbery or a murder it doesn’t really matter where it happens, there will be a serious attempt at enforcement. When it comes to immigration and drug-related offenses, there will be a decision as far as how much enforcement there should be.”

In the case of drug laws, Mauer said, although it’s been shown that drug use is fairly evenly spread throughout the population, enforcement is much more likely to impact “low-income communities of color.”

As for immigration, the past decade has seen an unprecedented amount of federal enforcement of immigration-related offenses, resulting in both record numbers of deportations and a backlog of cases in immigration courts. Huge racial disparities in federal prisons and detention centers have followed as a result.

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