Race and crime

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Race is one of the correlates of crime receiving attention in academic studies, government surveys, media coverage, and public concern. Several causes of racial disparities in treatment by the criminal justice system have been tested by experts in the sociological field. A majority of their results find that a lack of financial means and low social status are likely factors motivating minorities to commit crime. Additionally, blacks and other ethnic minorities are often sentenced to more time in prison than their white counterparts.

Racial disparity[edit]

The term racial disparity as it relates to crime can be defined as the proportion of a racial or ethnic group within the criminal justice system exceeding the proportion of such a group within the general population. People of color are more likely to be racially profiled, stopped, and harassed by the police.[1] Racial disparities in the US criminal justice system worsened after 1980 following various political developments. The Nixon, Reagan and Bush administrations are credited for directing what is known as the War on Drugs. In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for the trafficking or possession of crack when compared to penalties for trafficking of powder cocaine,[2][3][4] which had been widely criticized as discriminatory against minorities, mostly blacks, who were more likely to use crack than powder cocaine.[5] Statistics from 1998 show that there were wide racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, sentencing and deaths. African-American drug users made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes.[3] Nationwide, African-Americans were sent to state prisons for drug offenses 13 times more often than other races,[6] even though they only supposedly comprised 13% of regular drug users.[3]


Racial disparity in commission of violent crime is commonly attributed to the social status and financial means of minorities. Poverty is one factor correlated with an increase in criminal activity. The correlation between poverty and criminal activity has been shown to be independent of race, with the disproportionate number of minorities in poverty being a major reason for their disproportionately high levels of criminal activity.[7] Research shows that childhood exposure to violence also significantly increases the likelihood of engagement in violent behavior. When studies control for childhood exposure to violence, black and white males in the United States are equally likely to engage in violent behavior.[8] Among American teens, black-white differences in violence are accounted for by differences in family income and socialization with deviant peers in school.[9]

Discrimination by the criminal justice system in Europe[edit]

Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in disproportionately high numbers of racial minorities among crime suspects in Sweden, Italy, and England and Wales.[10][11][12][13][14] Research also suggests that there may be possible discrimination by the judicial system, which contributes to a higher number of convictions for racial minorities in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Denmark and France.[10][12][13][15][16][17][18]

Discrimination by the criminal justice system in the United States[edit]

Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in disproportionately high numbers of racial minorities among crime suspects.[19][20][21][22] Research also suggests that there may be possible discrimination by the judicial system, which contributes to a higher number of convictions for racial minorities.[23][24][25][26][27][28] A 2012 study found that "(i) juries formed from all-white jury pools convict black defendants significantly (16 percentage points) more often than white defendants, and (ii) this gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one black member."[25] Research has found evidence of in-group bias, where "black (white) juveniles who are randomly assigned to black (white) judges are more likely to get incarcerated (as opposed to being placed on probation), and they receive longer sentences."[27] In-group bias has also been observed when it comes to traffic citations, as black and white cops are more likely to cite out-groups.[21] A 2016 paper by Roland G. Fryer, Jr, found that while there are no racial differences in lethal use of police force, blacks and Hispanics are significantly more likely to experience non-lethal use of force.[29] Reports by the Department of Justice have also found that police officers in Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, systemically stop, search (in some cases strip-searching) and harass black residents.[30][31] A January 2017 report by the DOJ also found that the Chicago Police Department had "unconstitutionally engaged in a pattern of excessive and deadly force" and that police "have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color".[32]

In criminal sentencing, medium to dark-skinned African Americans are likely to receive sentences 2.6 years longer than those of whites or light-skinned African Americans. When a white victim is involved, those with more "black" features are likely to receive a much more severe punishment.[33]

A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks were "3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession", even though "blacks and whites use drugs, including marijuana, at similar rates."[34]

A 2016 analysis by the New York Times "of tens of thousands of disciplinary cases against inmates in 2015, hundreds of pages of internal reports and three years of parole decisions found that racial disparities were embedded in the prison experience in New York."[35] Blacks and Latinos were sent more frequently to solitary and held there for longer durations than whites.[35] The New York Times analysis found that the disparities were the greatest for violations where the prison guards had lots of discretion, such as disobeying orders, but smaller for violations that required physical evidence, such as possessing contraband.[35]

A 2016 report by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune found that Florida judges sentence black defendants to far longer prison sentences than whites with the same background.[36] For the same drug possession crimes, blacks were sentenced to double the time of whites.[36] Blacks were given longer sentences in 60 percent of felony cases, 68 percent of the most serious first-degree crimes, 45 percent of burglary cases and 30 percent of battery cases.[36] For third-degree felonies (the least serious types of felonies in Florida), white judges sentenced blacks to twenty percent more time than whites, whereas black judges gave more balanced sentences.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Russell-Brown, Katheryn (2009). The Color of Crime (Second ed.). 
  2. ^ Jim Abrams (July 29, 2010). "Congress passes bill to reduce disparity in crack, powder cocaine sentencing". Washington Post. 
  3. ^ a b c Burton-Rose (ed.), 1998: pp. 246–247
  4. ^ United States Sentencing Commission (2002). "Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy" (PDF). p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 15, 2007. Retrieved August 24, 2010. As a result of the 1986 Act ... penalties for a first-time cocaine trafficking offense: 5 grams or more of crack cocaine = five-year mandatory minimum penalty 
  5. ^ "The Fair Sentencing Act corrects a long-time wrong in cocaine cases", The Washington Post, August 3, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  6. ^ "Key Findings at a Glance". Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  7. ^ Ulmer, Jeffery T.; Harris, Casey T.; Steffensmeier, Darrell (2012-09-01). "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Structural Disadvantage and Crime: White, Black, and Hispanic Comparisons". Social Science Quarterly. 93 (3): 799–819. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00868.x. ISSN 1540-6237. PMC 4097310Freely accessible. PMID 25035523. 
  8. ^ Aliprantis, Dionissi (2016-09-14). "Human capital in the inner city". Empirical Economics: 1–45. doi:10.1007/s00181-016-1160-y. ISSN 0377-7332. 
  9. ^ Haggerty, Kevin P.; Skinner, Martie L.; McGlynn-Wright, Anne; Catalano, Richard F.; Crutchfield, Robert D. (2013). "Parent and peer predictors of violent behavior of Black and White teens". Violence and Victims. 28 (1): 145–160. ISSN 0886-6708. PMC 3767568Freely accessible. PMID 23520837. 
  10. ^ a b "Diskriminering i rättsprocessen - Brå". www.bra.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  11. ^ Hällsten, Martin; Szulkin, Ryszard; Sarnecki, Jerzy (2013-05-01). "Crime as a Price of Inequality? The Gap in Registered Crime between Childhood Immigrants, Children of Immigrants and Children of Native Swedes". British Journal of Criminology. 53 (3): 456–481. doi:10.1093/bjc/azt005. 
  12. ^ a b Crocitti, Stefania. Immigration, Crime, and Criminalization in Italy - Oxford Handbooks. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199859016.013.029. 
  13. ^ a b Colombo, Asher (2013-11-01). "Foreigners and immigrants in Italy's penal and administrative detention systems". European Journal of Criminology. 10 (6): 746–759. doi:10.1177/1477370813495128. 
  14. ^ Parmar, Alpa. Ethnicities, Racism, and Crime in England and Wales - Oxford Handbooks. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199859016.013.014. 
  15. ^ Holmberg, Lars; Kyvsgaard, Britta (2003). "Are Immigrants and Their Descendants Discriminated against in the Danish Criminal Justice System?". Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention. 4 (2): 125–142. doi:10.1080/14043850310020027. 
  16. ^ Roché, Sebastian; Gordon, Mirta B.; Depuiset, Marie-Aude. Case Study - Oxford Handbooks. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199859016.013.030. 
  17. ^ Light, Michael T. (2016-03-01). "The Punishment Consequences of Lacking National Membership in Germany, 1998–2010". Social Forces. 94 (3): 1385–1408. doi:10.1093/sf/sov084. 
  18. ^ Wermink, Hilde; Johnson, Brian D.; Nieuwbeerta, Paul; Keijser, Jan W. de (2015-11-01). "Expanding the scope of sentencing research: Determinants of juvenile and adult punishment in the Netherlands". European Journal of Criminology. 12 (6): 739–768. doi:10.1177/1477370815597253. 
  19. ^ Warren, Patricia Y.; Tomaskovic-Devey, Donald (2009-05-01). "Racial profiling and searches: Did the politics of racial profiling change police behavior?". Criminology & Public Policy. 8 (2): 343–369. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9133.2009.00556.x. 
  20. ^ Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2008/09, p. 8., 22
  21. ^ a b West, Jeremy (February 2018). "Racial Bias in Police Investigations" (PDF). Working Paper. 
  22. ^ Donohue III, John J.; Levitt, Steven D. (2001-01-01). "The Impact of Race on Policing and Arrests". The Journal of Law & Economics. 44 (2): 367–394. doi:10.1086/322810. JSTOR 10.1086/322810. 
  23. ^ Abrams, David S.; Bertrand, Marianne; Mullainathan, Sendhil (2012-06-01). "Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?". The Journal of Legal Studies. 41 (2): 347–383. CiteSeerX accessible. doi:10.1086/666006. 
  24. ^ Mustard, David B. (2001-04-01). "Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts". The Journal of Law and Economics. 44 (1): 285–314. doi:10.1086/320276. 
  25. ^ a b Anwar, Shamena; Bayer, Patrick; Hjalmarsson, Randi (2012-05-01). "The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 127 (2): 1017–1055. doi:10.1093/qje/qjs014. 
  26. ^ Daudistel, Howard C.; Hosch, Harmon M.; Holmes, Malcolm D.; Graves, Joseph B. (1999-02-01). "Effects of Defendant Ethnicity on Juries' Dispositions of Felony Cases1". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 29 (2): 317–336. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1999.tb01389.x. 
  27. ^ a b Depew, Briggs; Eren, Ozkan; Mocan, Naci (2017). "Judges, Juveniles, and In-Group Bias". Journal of Law and Economics. 60 (2): 209–239. doi:10.1086/693822. 
  28. ^ David, Arnold; Will, Dobbie; Yang, Crystal S. (May 2017). "Racial Bias in Bail Decisions". NBER Working Paper No. 23421. doi:10.3386/w23421. 
  29. ^ Fryer, Roland G., Jr. (July 2016). "An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force". NBER Working Paper No. 22399. doi:10.3386/w22399. 
  30. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (2016-08-10). "Findings of Police Bias in Baltimore Validate What Many Have Long Felt". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-08-11. 
  31. ^ "The 12 key highlights from the DOJ's scathing Ferguson report". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-11. 
  32. ^ CNN, Jason Hanna and Madison Park. "Chicago police use excessive force, DOJ finds". CNN. Retrieved 2017-01-13. 
  33. ^ Hochschild, Jennifer L (2007). "The Skin Color Paradox and the American Racial Order". Social Forces. 86 (2): 643–670. doi:10.1093/sf/86.2.643. 
  34. ^ "Gary Johnson's bungled claims about racial disparities in crime". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-01-21. 
  35. ^ a b c Winerip, Michael Schwirtz, Michael; Gebeloff, Robert (2016-12-03). "The Scourge of Racial Bias in New York State's Prisons". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-12-03. 
  36. ^ a b c d "Same background. Same crime. Different race. Different sentence". Retrieved 2016-12-19.