A Preliminary Investigation of the Intersection of Race and Disabilities among Inmates in the U.S. State Prison System

Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol. 2019 Mar;63(4):597-609. doi: 10.1177/0306624X18805599. Epub 2018 Oct 12.


The American prison system is overcrowded with minorities in general, and African Americans, in particular. The Department of Justice notes that more than 50% of the prison population have some type of mental disability. In this study, we examine the intersection between race and disabilities in the U.S. State prison system. Using the Rehabilitation Services Administration data set, the study highlights the prevalence and type of disabilities in the prison inmate population. Results demonstrate that African American inmates are overrepresented among inmates with disabilities, are more likely to have mental disabilities relative to physical disabilities, and these results hold for various types of mental disabilities including cognitive, psychosocial, and other mental disabilities. Study limitations and directions for future research are also discussed.

Keywords: African American; Hispanics; corrections; disabilities; mental health; physical health; race.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Disabled Persons / psychology
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data
  • Prisons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors