Monday, September 8, 2014

Racism and Criminal Justice

The new 44 page report on race and sentencing in America by the Sentencing Project is a tour de force condemnation of the criminal justice system, the racist drug laws and sentences of 80's and 90's, militarized policing and racial profiling, and an outright evisceration of the War on Drugs the past 30+ years.

Some of the conclusions:

  • “Whites are more punitive than blacks and Hispanics even though they experience less crime.”
  • “White Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color and associate people of color with criminality. For example, white respondents in a 2010 survey overestimated the actual share of burglaries, illegal drug sales and juvenile crime committed by African-Americans by 20 percent to 30 percent.”
  • “White Americans who associate crime with blacks and Latinos are more likely to support punitive policies — including capital punishment and mandatory minimum sentencing — than whites with weaker racial associations of crime.”
  • “Whether acting on their own implicit biases or bowing to political exigency, policy makers have fused crime and race in their policy initiatives and statements. They have crafted harsh sentencing laws that impact all Americans and disproportionately incarcerate people of color.”
  • “By increasing support for punitive policies, racial perceptions of crime have made sentencing more severe for all Americans. The United States now has the world’s highest imprisonment rate, with one in nine prisoners serving life sentences. Racial perceptions of crime, combined with other factors, have led to the disparate punishment of people of color. Although blacks and Latinos together comprise just 30 percent of the general population, they account for 58 percent of the prison population.”
  • “By increasing the scale of criminal sanctions and disproportionately directing penalties toward people of color, racial perceptions of crime have been counterproductive for public safety. Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials. In 2013, over two-thirds of African-Americans saw the criminal justice system as biased against blacks, in contrast to one-quarter of whites. 
  • "Whites’ greater punitiveness relative to people of color is especially striking because whites are far less likely than blacks and Hispanics to be victims of crime. "
  • "Researchers have shown that those who attribute crime to individual dispositions are more punitive and less supportive of rehabilitation than those who emphasize environment factors.186 Whites who attribute crime more to individual failings rather than to social contexts are also more likely to believe that crime rates, rather than bias, drive the over-representation of blacks in prisons."
And so on. While much of this is common knowledge for those of us who teach crime and punishment in America, it's a concise history and very worth your time to spend an hour or so digesting the report in total. Even the solutions presented seem workable and easy to implement, given changing philosophies and "smart on crime" movement.

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