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Race and crime: How race impacts the criminal justice system

By December 8, 2017April 2nd, 2024No Comments

Lawmakers and advocates have made great strides in criminal justice reform over the past few years, with more and more states choosing to enact policies that reduce the number of prisoners without increasing violent crime in the communities where they are released.

But the rise of high-profile police shootings in which officers kill black teenagers or men — Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to name a few — have highlighted the fact that the color of your skin still plays a huge role in the criminal justice system.

An extensive report published by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that seeks to reform the justice system by addressing racial disparities and reducing prison populations, examines just how critical the perception of race is and how perception — how white people associate crime with minorities — is directly related to harsh prison sentences and biased laws.

What did the research uncover?

Here are some of the key findings of the report:

  • White people in the United States are considered “more punitive” than people of color – This means that white people are more likely to support harsher punishments for crime, despite the fact that minorities are more often victims of crime than white people. White people are more likely to support the death penalty than minorities.
  • White people in the United States amplify the amount of crime committed by people of color, because they largely associate crime with people of color. In a survey issued in 2010, it was revealed that white people believed Mexican people and black people were responsible for 20-30 percent more burglaries, drug deals, and juvenile crime than they actually were.
  • Media outlets are partly to blame for the perception that minorities commit more crime, according to the research. The report suggests that minorities are “overrepresented” as crime suspects, while white people are more often portrayed as crime victims. Police, too, play a role when they overgeneralize the description of suspects that media outlets release, like a “black male wearing a baseball cap,” for example.


How do these perceptions on race crossover into the justice system?

Lawmakers and policymakers have responded to those societal perceptions about race, though it’s unclear whether their own biases come into play or whether they are simply responding to what their constituents believe.

Racial bias is a factor in the following elements of the system:

  • Police stops
  • The severity of the charges
  • Setting bail
  • Sentencing

African Americans and Latinos comprise 30 percent of the population, but 58 percent of prisoners are Latino or African American.

If you or someone you love was unfairly targeted by police because of your race, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense and civil rights attorney. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.