Race and Punishment in America

raceandpunishment1016The prison count has fallen every year since 2010 and the racial gaps in imprisonment rates have decreased. However, the race issue has ongoing importance as demonstrated by the killing of an unarmed African American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri and the public response it provoked.

This report examines racial perceptions of crime, especially white Americans’ strong association of crime with racial minorities and the harsh, biased criminal justice policies that derive from it.

Whites tend to be more punitive even though they are less likely to be victims of crime with more than half supporting the death penalty. Moreover, the media appears to fuel stereotypical attitudes to criminal activity, whereas policymakers and justice practitioners operate within and reinforce racial perceptions of crime.

The distortion of the criminal justice system has undermined public safety as minorities’ perceptions of unfairness resulted in dampened cooperation with police work and criminal labeling aggravated deviant behavior. The report concludes with recommendations on how the effects of racial perceptions of crime can be addressed and mitigated to create more just criminal control policies.

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