Amid growing calls to dismantle racial disparities in law enforcement and address COVID-related health risks for incarcerated people, the Reflective Democracy Campaign released Confronting the Demographics of Power: America’s Sheriffs. The report explores the demographics of sheriffs in America, and sheriffs’ impact on public health and safety as the chief managers of county jails and a wide range of other law enforcement activities. The Campaign describes current and historical abuses of power by sheriffs and highlights the position’s unique lack of oversight and accountability. Most notably, its findings show that 92 percent of elected sheriffs are white and 90 percent are white men -- even though 50 percent of people in jails are people of color. Sheriffs -- who are 98 percent male -- also regularly deal directly with women and families on a number of key issues including housing evictions, immigration detention, and domestic violence.
The report’s findings also include:
With white men comprising just 30 percent of the U.S. population, the overrepresentation of white male in sheriff’s offices surpasses even that of legislators (62 percent) and elected prosecutors (73 percent).
While African Americans are confined to jail at over three times the rate of white Americans, only five percent of sheriffs are African American.
Even as the number of women in jails continues to increase, only three percent of sheriffs are women.
Deep disparities in representation persist even in states with high percentages of people of color -- for example, while California is 63 percent people of color, only nine percent of the state’s sheriffs are of color.
America’s Sheriffs uses the Reflective Democracy Campaign’s data on the demographics of 3,000 elected sheriffs in 46 states. This report is the latest from the Reflective Democracy Campaign, which maintains the country’s only comprehensive database of candidates and elected officials by race and gender. The campaign’s public opinion research has consistently found bipartisan voter support for elected officials who reflect the full diversity of the American people.
America’s Sheriffs follows the Reflective Democracy Campaign’s release last year of Tipping the Scales, which showed how diverse challengers are increasingly being elected to prosecutor positions and changing the demographics of prosecutorial power nationwide.
“Sheriffs in America are singularly troubling. They have unparalleled autonomy and tremendous power, and that power is concentrated overwhelmingly in the hands of white men, who are 90 percent of sheriffs nationwide,” said Reflective Democracy Campaign Director Brenda Choresi Carter. “As the primary law-enforcement officers for large parts of the country, they routinely make life-or-death decisions for their communities -- especially communities of color, who are disproportionately affected, and too often abused, by law enforcement. As policing in America faces a long-overdue reckoning, it’s time that we grapple with the role of sheriffs and make them far more accountable to voters and reflective of their communities.”
The Reflective Democracy Campaign investigates and disrupts the demographics of power in the United States. Our groundbreaking data and analysisexpose the stark race and gender imbalances between our elected officials and our country’s population, and we fund catalytic organizing that builds community-based power to shift the political status quo. Founded by the Women Donors Network in 2014, the Reflective Democracy Campaign was formed to pursue a democracy where all of us are reflected in the halls of power. For more information on the Reflective Democracy Campaign, visit: wholeads.us/ and follow @WhoLeadsUs, or contact us at hello@WhoLeads.us.
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