Blacks’ incarceration rate in 1999 was 2.8 times their rate in 1980.
Blacks’ incarceration rate in 1999 was 8.2 times the incarceration rate for non-Hispanic Whites.
Of the Black population, 1.6 percent was incarcerated in state and federal prisons in 1999 (Blumstein and Beck, 1999: Table 2).
Of Black males in their 20s, 8.3 percent are in prison in 1999 (Blumstein and Beck, 1999: Table 2).
It is likely that 28.5 percent of Black males will serve time in a state or federal prison; whereas it is likely that 4.4 percent of non-Hispanic White males will serve time in a state or federal prison (Bonczar and Beck, 1997).
Of Black males in their 20s, 30 percent were under control of the criminal justice system—prison, jail, probation, or parole (Mauer, 1990)
In some cities, the rate of Black males in their 20s under control of the criminal justice system exceeds 50 percent (Miller, 1996).
Anyone who looks at these high rates of involvement must find them most distressing, especially for the social control system that is intended to be a last resort for engendering proper behavior in a civil society. Even if they represented totally even-handed administration of justice, the high rates of intrusiveness—and especially the glaring disparities between Blacks and Whites—must raise profound concerns and an intense search for means of reducing the racial disparities. It is then critical to examine the sources of the disparities in order to know where to focus attention to alleviate the problems.
The paper by Randall Kennedy (1998) highlights a number of important examples of policies and practices that contribute to the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
It is important to isolate factors contributing to the disparity, because different factors will lead to different approaches for improvement. We can identify three different contributors:
individual acts of discrimination,
policies that have differential racial effects, and
racial differences in participation in the crimes that lead to involvement with the criminal justice system.