Most people in Delaware prisons come from poorer, minority-heavy cities, new report shows

Most people incarcerated from cities in Delaware are from Wilmington, Dover and Seaford, a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative found.

Prison gerrymandering — the practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison rather than where they’re from in the census — was outlawed in Delaware in 2010. This allows think tanks like the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative to determine where most of the people in Delaware’s prisons are actually from. The calculations are based on data from the 2020 census and information provided by prisons about the majority of their population.

The findings paint a grim — but not unexpected — picture: People incarcerated in Delaware often come from cities with higher poverty rates and more Black residents.

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Which Delaware cities had the highest and lowest incarceration rates?

Wilmington has the highest incarceration rate of any city in Delaware, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Over 1% of residents are incarcerated; and with the largest population in the state, the think tank has given Wilmington the “dubious distinction” of having the most people actually incarcerated in addition to the highest rate.

Excluding towns, Seaford has the second-highest incarceration rate in the state — 748 people behind bars per 100,000 residents. It’s followed by Dover, which had 680 people incarcerated per 100,000 residents as of 2020.

These three cities have more in common than incarceration rates. All of them have greater percentages of Black residents and people in poverty than the state’s averages. Minority residents are more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report.

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Newark had the lowest incarceration rate of Delaware’s cities — less than a third of the state’s average. Unlike the higher-ranking cities on the list, Newark’s population is only 9% Black.

These disparities show up in the incarcerated population, too. In Delaware, a state where the Black population accounts for 22% of residents, Black people make up 60% of prisoners.

High incarceration rates aren’t limited to Delaware’s larger cities. While the total population of towns like Blades and Laurel in Sussex County may be small, the rate of incarceration is still far above the state’s average.

In Blades, data shows that residents are incarcerated twice as often as the rest of the state. In Laurel, the statistic jumps to triple. No residents of small towns like Dewey Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island were reported incarcerated in 2020.

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Disparities in Delaware’s prison population are not a new phenomenon. They’re so stark that the government even commissioned a report about the root causes of the inequalities and created a committee to address them − one that never filed a final report.

Cities and towns with higher rates of incarceration can suffer a variety of adverse effects, the Prison Policy Initiative said. These can include shorter life expectancy, lower test scores and worse mental and physical health.

“Going to prison is life-altering,” said Haneef Salaam, an activist with the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union. “Life after prison includes huge obstacles to finding long-term employment and safe and stable housing, which leads to negative impacts on lifetime earnings, community involvement and family structures.”

Explore more data from the report here.

Send story tips or ideas to Hannah Edelman at For more reporting, follow them on Twitter at @h_edelman.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Wilmington, Dover, Seaford have highest Delaware incarceration rates