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Incarceration Rates of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on the Rise

Jason Wang
By Tinabeth Piña
Asian American Life

Contrary to popular belief – Asian Americans are not your stereotypical model minority. In fact— their incarceration rates are on the rise – totally debunking the model minority myth.

According to the latest report by the AAPI Beyond Bars committee – Asian American and Pacific Islanders represent a population that is often overlooked in the criminal justice system. In 2013, there were an estimated 9% or 118,100 AAPIs in state and federal prisons. Although these numbers are low compared to other ethnicities – it should be noted that they are only approximations — since AAPIs are officially categorized as “others” throughout much of the U.S. prison system.

“The data is not collected very well. We are categorized as “others” so our numbers are lumped. The data doesn’t aggregate whether you are Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean or Japanese,” says Chhaya Chhoum Executive Director of Mekong NYC.

She also notes that since AAPI inmate data gets lost in the system — that the population essentially doesn’t’ exist in prison and jails across the country– adding fuel to the fire of the model minority myth. “We’re not supposed to be in jail – Asian folks are supposed to be in school; but, that myth erases our experience of living in urban poverty, it doesn’t reflect the reality of our community” says Chhoum.

Closely tied to the rise of mass incarceration for AAPIs is the growth of immigration detention and deportation, which has increased for AAPIs overall, and Southeast Asian Americans in particular. In fact, Southeast Asian American communities are three to four times more likely to be deported for old convictions, compared to other immigrant communities.

Incarcerated AAPIs also experience unique challenges, including cultural stigmas, and disownment from their families.

For more information and stories from former AAPI inmates — watch the latest episode of Asian American Life on Facebook.


Contrary to popular belief, Asian Americans are not your stereotypical model minority. In fact, their incarceration rates are on the rise. And just like any other inmate that gets paroled, their transition into society can be an uphill battle. Reporter Tinabeth Piña has an exclusive report on ex-cons who have turned their lives around. China Mac, Mekong NYC, Byte Size Moments

Posted by Asian American Life on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

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