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Racial Disparities and Dynamics in the Criminal Justice System

Research exploring the racial disparities and dynamics of incarceration.

Applying the Stepping Up Framework to Advance Racial Equity

Risë Haneberg and Kate Reed, 2023

Individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) have long advocated for addressing disparities in the behavioral health and criminal justice systems. Such pervasive inequities can be complex to understand and overwhelming to counties that are just starting to confront them. The Stepping Up framework offers a solid foundation to effect more racially equitable outcomes, specifically among individuals with serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system.

Racial Disparities Persist in Many U.S. Jails

The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2023

Despite narrowed gap in incarceration rates, Black people remain overrepresented in jail populations, admissions—and stay longer on average.

Racial Inequality in the Prevalence, Degree, Extension, and Permeation of Incarceration in Family Life

Yi, Youngmin, 2023

Using data from the Family History of Incarceration Study, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults, this study introduces novel descriptive measures that provide a more comprehensive picture of the demography and racially unequal distribution of family incarceration: degree, generational extension, and permeation. This analysis shows that Black adults in the United States are not only more likely to have experienced family incarceration but are also more likely to have had more family members incarcerated and to have had family members from more generations ever incarcerated.

Structural racism and the impact on incarcerated midlife women

Hutchinson-Colas Juana, Mary Cathryn Earnhardt, Afsara Mannan, James McGreevy & Gloria A Bachmann, 2022

Women are the fastest growing prison population and most incarcerated women are from Black and Latinx groups.

Research exploring the racial disparities and dynamics of incarceration

Close, Melanie, Olive Lu, Shannon Tomascak, Preeti Chauhan, Erica Bond, Data Collaborative for Justice, 2021

This report documents the rates of incarceration for white, Black and Latinx Americans in each state, identifies three contributors to racial and ethnic disparities in imprisonment, and provides recommendations for reform.

The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons;

The Sentencing Project, 2021

This report documents the rates of incarceration for white, Black and Latinx Americans in each state, identifies three contributors to racial and ethnic disparities in imprisonment, and provides recommendations for reform.

Enhancing Equity in the Criminal Justice System: A Self-Reflection Tool;

SAMHSA, 2021

To build a supportive system that respects the dignity and humanity of all individuals served, criminal justice system stakeholders should enhance their understanding of criminogenic needs and criminal thinking. Use this checklist to explore how your agency can become more equitable.

Evidence-Based and Culturally Relevant Behavioral Health Interventions in Practice: Strategies and Lessons Learned from NNEDLearn;

SAMHSA, 2021

This report provides findings from a qualitative analysis of evidence-based and culturally relevant behavioral health practices offered at NNEDLearn, a SAMHSA training, offered from 2011 to 2020. It includes an overview of NNEDLearn, case studies, strategies and lessons learned, and conclusion.

Racial Equity and Criminal Justice Risk Assessment;

Freeman, Kelly R., Cathy Hu, Jesse Jannetta, 2021

Racial and ethnic disparity is a pervasive characteristic of the American criminal justice system.

Community Supervision Marked by Racial and Gender Disparities;

Horowitz, Jake, Connie Utada, 2018

African-Americans and men are overrepresented in probation and parole population.

Trends in Correctional Control by Race and Sex;

Caccavale, Alexander, Thaddeus L. Johnson, William J.Sabol, Council on Criminal Justice, 2019

American prison populations have long been characterized by racial and ethnic disparities.

Bias In, Bias Out;

Mayson, Sandra, 2019

Police, prosecutors, judges, and other criminal justice actors increasingly use algorithmic risk assessment to estimate the likelihood that a person will commit future crime. As many scholars have noted, these algorithms tend to have disparate racial impacts.

Reimagining Prison Report;

Dulaney, Ruth, Ram Subramanian, Alison Shames, Nicholas Turner, The Vera Institute of Justice, 2018

In this report, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) reimagines the how, what, and why of incarceration and asserts a new governing principle on which to ground prison policy and practice: human dignity.

Examining Race and Gender Disparities in Restrictive Housing Placements;

Tasca, Melinda, Jillian Turanovic, 2018

Overall, this study found significant racial and ethnic disparities in restrictive housing placements for men and women, compared to legally relevant and administratively relevant factors and other inmate characteristics.

Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Racial Discrimination: A Field Experiment;

Agan, Amanda, Sonja Starr, The Quarterly Journal of Aconomics, 2018

“Ban the Box” (BTB) policies restrict employers from asking about applicants’ criminal histories on job applications and are often presented as a means of reducing unemployment among black men, who disproportionately have criminal records.

An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System;

Hinton, Elizabeth Kai, LeShae Henderson, Cindy Reed, The Vera Institute of Justice, 2018

This brief presents an overview of the ways in which America’s history of racism and oppression continues to manifest in the criminal justice system, and a summary of research demonstrating how the system perpetuates the disparate treatment of black people.

Divided Justice: Trends in Black and White Jail Incarceration 1990-2013;

Subramanian, Ram, Kristi Riley, Chris Mai, The Vera Institute of Justice, 2018

This report dives into the data on black and white incarceration trends from 1990 to 2013, and poses several questions for further exploration that might explain why these rates are shifting.

Pretrial Risk Assessment Can Produce Race-Neutral Results;

Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), 2017

Validated risk assessment tools are fairer and safer than money bail and can protect against racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.

Examining Racial Disparities in Criminal Case Outcomes Among Indigent Defendants in San Francisco;

Owens, Emily, Eric M. Kerrison, and Bernardo Santos DaSilveira, 2017

In this report, we document that Black, White and Latinx indigent defendants in San Francisco have substantially different experiences during the criminal adjudication process. Specifically, defendants of color are more likely to be held in custody during their cases, which tend to take longer than the cases of White defendants.

The Implicit Racial Bias in Sentencing: The Next Frontier;

Bennett,Mark W., The Yale Law Journal, 2017

Cutting edge empirical studies of inmate populations in several states strongly suggest implicit racial bias contributes to increases in the length of sentences based on offenders’ darker skin tone and more pronounced Afrocentric features.

Risk, Race, & Recidivism: Predictive Bias and Disparate Impac;

Skeem, Jennifer, Christopher T. Lowenkamp, 2016

Based on a sample of 34,794 federal offenders, we empirically examine the relationships among race (Black vs. White), actuarial risk assessment (the Post Conviction Risk Assessment [PCRA]), and re-arrest (for any/violent crime).

In Our Own Backyard: Confronting Growth and Disparities in American Jails;

Subramanian, Ram, Christian Henrichson, Jacob Kang-Brown, The Vera Institute of Justice, 2015

Vera researchers developed a data tool that includes current and historical jail incarceration rates for every U.S. county.

Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System;

Ghandnoosh, Nazgol, The Sentencing Project, 2015

This briefing paper identifies four key features of the justice system that contribute to its disparate racial impact, and presents recent best practices for targeting these inequities drawn from adult and juvenile justice systems around the country.

Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Probation Revocation Summary Findings and Implications from a Multisite Study;

Janetta, Jesse, Justin Breaux, Helen Ho, and Jeremy Porter, Urban Institute, 2014

This brief discusses Urban’s study examining the degree of disparity in probation revocation outcomes and the drivers of that disparity.

The Changing Racial Dynamics of Women’s Incarceration;

Mauer, Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project , 2013

This study examined the changing racial dynamics of incarcerated persons, especially as they pertain to women.