Racial Bias and Prison Discipline: A Study of North Carolina State Prisons

43 N.C. Cent. L. Rev. 1

60 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2022 Last revised: 16 Apr 2023

Date Written: April 14, 2022


Black and Indigenous people receive disproportionate disciplinary writeups in the North Carolina state prison system. As a result, incarcerated Black and Indigenous people are more likely than their white counterparts to experience disciplinary sanctions, including solitary confinement.

In this Article, I analyze data from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. I employ two statistical techniques—binary logistic regression and multiple linear regression—to explore racial disparities in the disciplinary process. I consider disparities in overall disciplinary outcomes and disparities at several discrete moments in the disciplinary process. I show that, holding other variables constant, a Black person incarcerated in North Carolina was 10.3% more likely than a similarly situated white person to receive at least one disciplinary write-up in 2020. An Indigenous person was 13% more likely than a white person to receive a write-up. On the other hand, Latinx people and people of other races were less likely than white people to receive write-ups. Because Black and Indigenous people received disproportionate write-ups, they also received disproportionate sanctions. For example, relative to white people, Black people were 8% more likely and Indigenous people 23% more likely to be subjected to disciplinary segregation—a punitive form of solitary confinement. Explicit and implicit racial biases likely explain these disparities.

These findings support several recommendations from the landmark 2020 report by the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. The Task Force advocated reforming the prison system’s handling of alleged disciplinary infractions. The proposed reforms would mitigate bias in the prison-discipline process and in adjacent processes like parole review. While these reforms are not perfect antidotes to racial bias, they would promote equity within the prison system. The present analysis suggests that the North Carolina Department of Public Safety—and, where legislative changes are necessary, the North Carolina General Assembly—should adopt, fund, and implement the proposed reforms.

Keywords: Race, Law, Prison, Criminal Law, Discipline, Implicit Bias, Solitary Confinement

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Becker, Katherine M., Racial Bias and Prison Discipline: A Study of North Carolina State Prisons (April 14, 2022). 43 N.C. Cent. L. Rev. 1, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4083852

Katherine M. Becker (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

United States

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