Abstract: A great deal of research has documented racial disparities in imprisonment rates in the United States, but little work has been done to understand the process by which inmates are assigned to individual correctional facilities. This article extends research on racial disparities in imprisonment rates to consider racial disparities in inmate populations across prisons. Specifically, it examines the racial pattern of inmate placement in privately operated and publicly operated correctional facilities. Analysis of American adult correctional facilities reveals that, in 2005, white inmates were significantly underrepresented (and Hispanic inmates overrepresented) in private correctional facilities relative to public ones. Results from multilevel models show that being privately operated (as opposed to publicly operated) decreased the white share of a facility's population by more than eight percentage points and increased the Hispanic share of a facility's population by nearly two percentage points, net of facility- and state-level controls. These findings raise legal questions about equal protection of inmates and economic questions about the reliance of private correctional firms on Hispanic inmates.
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