Race, crime, and punishment in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries

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58 Scopus citations


Flagrant and widespread racism that characterized the criminal justice system during the early part of the twentieth century has largely been eliminated, but racial disparities persist. Whether because of overt racism, implicit bias, or laws and practices that have racially disparate effects, black (and Hispanic) men and women make up a disproportionate number of people in American prisons and on death row. Researchers have conducted dozens of studies designed to untangle the complex relationships between race and punishment to determine the causes of racial disparities. Findings vary somewhat, but most conclude that the share of racial disproportionality in imprisonment that can be explained by differential involvement in crime has declined over time; attribute the continuing-possibly worsening-disparity to policies pursued during the war on drugs and officials' race-linked stereotypes of culpability, dangerousness, and likelihood of reoffending; and contend that race affects the capital sentencing process. Remedying this will require reducing the size of the prison population, reforming the sentencing process so that many more offenders convicted of nonserious crimes receive alternatives to incarceration, and abolishing or severely restricting use of the death penalty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-97
Number of pages49
JournalCrime and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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