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From arrest to sentencing, racial and ethnic disparities are a defining characteristic of our criminal justice system. Not only does racial bias pervade the justice process; people of color also face disproportionately high rates of poverty, meaning they suffer from the justice system's unequal treatment of poor people. Black Americans, in particular, are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated and to receive the harshest sentences, including death sentences.
Below is some of our key research on racial disparities in the criminal justice system:
Our report breaks down how many people are incarcerated in the U.S., where, and why — highlighting causes of incarceration that get too little attention as well as incarceration “myths” that receive too much.
Our report breaks down where and why 172,700 women are locked up in the U.S. It also provides the clearest picture yet of how the pandemic impacted women's incarceration.
Our analysis of rare survey date shows how mass incarceration has been used to warehouse people with marginalized identities and those struggling with poverty, substance use disorders, and housing insecurity, among other serious problems.
Our first-of-its-kind report shows how all 50 states exclude some people with criminal records from serving on juries, making juries less diverse and trials less fair.
At least 4.9 million people go to county and city jails each year, our national analysis shows. We find that people who go to jail - particularly those who go more than once a year - are disproportionately likely to be Black.
Using U.S. Census data, we chart racial disparities in incarceration in every state. Our report includes over 200 state graphics.
Our first-of-its-kind report breaks down the pre-incarceration incomes of people in prison by race and gender. We find that even before their incarceration, people in prison are much poorer than Americans of similar ages.
We find that affording money bail is impossible for many defendants because the typical money bail amount represents — depending on race and gender of the defendant — between 8 and 13 months of income.
The prison construction boom was largely a rural prison construction boom. In this report, we measure one of the downstream results: the degree to which, in each state, mass incarceration has created jobs for white people while disproportionately locking up people of color.
Our analysis of NYPD data on stop-and-frisk shows that the police used physical force in almost a quarter of stops — and that their use of force is also racially discriminatory.
Increasing drug sentences in school zones is meant to protect children, but has worsened racial disparities in state prisons. We've published three reports about why these geography-based penalties are ineffective and harmful.
- Racial disparities in diversion: A research roundup, by Leah Wang, March 7, 2023
Research shows diversion “works,” reducing harmful outcomes and increasing access to social services. However, studies also suggest diversion is routinely denied to people of color, sending them deeper into the criminal legal system. We review the research and remind practitioners that most diversion programs aren’t designed around racial equity — but should be.
- The U.S. criminal justice system disproportionately hurts Native people: the data, visualized, by Leah Wang, October 8, 2021
We offer a roundup of what we know about Native people who are impacted by prisons, jails, and police, and about the persistent gaps in data collection and disaggregation that hide this layer of racial and ethnic disparity.
- Research roundup: Violent crimes against Black and Latinx people receive less coverage and less justice, by Katie Rose Quandt and Alexi Jones, March 18, 2021
We explain the research showing that violent crimes against Black Americans - especially those in poverty - are less likely to be cleared by police and less likely to receive news coverage than similar crimes against white people.
- New BJS data reveals a jail-building boom in Indian country, by Emily Widra, Wanda Bertram, and Wendy Sawyer, October 30, 2020
Across the country, local governments are building more jail space rather than working to reduce incarceration. New data shows that this trend is especially visible on tribal lands.
- New BJS data: Prison incarceration rates inch down, but racial equity and real decarceration still decades away, by Alexi Jones, October 30, 2020
At the current pace of decarceration, it will be 2088 when state prison populations return to pre-mass incarceration levels.
- Visualizing the racial disparities in mass incarceration, by Wendy Sawyer, July 27, 2020
Racial inequality is evident in every stage of the criminal justice system - here are the key statistics compiled into a series of charts.
- Changing demographics and stagnant populations: what the new BJS reports tell us about correctional populations, by Alexi Jones, May 5, 2020
New BJS reports show that jail and prison populations remain stubbornly high despite decreasing crime rates, and point to the shifting demographics of correctional populations.
- Ten key facts about policing: Highlights from our work, by Wendy Sawyer, June 5, 2020
Police disproportionately target Black and other marginalized people in stops, arrests, and use of force; and are increasingly called upon to respond to problems, such as homelessness, that are unrelated to public safety.
- Since you asked: What data exists about Native American people in the criminal justice system?, by Roxanne Daniel, April 22, 2020
Problems with data collection - and an unfortunate tendency to group Native Americans together with other ethnic and racial groups in data publications - have made it hard to understand the effect of mass incarceration on Native people.
- How race impacts who is detained pretrial, by Wendy Sawyer, October 9, 2019
The government hasn’t collected national data on the race or ethnicity of people awaiting trial in jail since 2002. We review the academic literature published since then to offer a more current assessment of racial disparities in pretrial detention.
- The crippling effect of incarceration on wealth, by Meredith Booker, April 26, 2016
The wealth disparity between young men who experience prison and those who never do is staggering - and contains a heavy racial component.
- Policing Women: Race and gender disparities in police stops, searches, and use of force, May 14, 2019
We analyze gender and racial disparities in traffic and street stops, including arrests, searches, and use of force that occurs during stops.
- Why do we lock juveniles up for life and throw away the key? Race plays a big part, by Joshua Aiken, September 15, 2016
The United States is the only country in the world that sentences people under 18 to die behind bars. Which states do it, and why?
- Police stops are still marred by racial discrimination, new data shows, by Alexi Jones, October 12, 2018
So why does Trump continue to endorse stop-and-frisk?
- New poll shows mass incarceration is a Latinx issue, by Lucius Couloute, January 24, 2018
A new poll from Latino Justice PRLDEF shows that the Latinx community is deeply concerned about mass incarceration.
- The parallel epidemics of incarceration & HIV in the Deep South, by Emily Widra, September 8, 2017
HIV disproportionately impacts communities that are already marginalized by poverty, inadequate resources, discrimination, and mass incarceration.
- Unraveling the connections between race, incarceration, and women's HIV rates, by Wendy Sawyer and Emily Widra, May 8, 2017
Current research points to an unexpected contributor to the high rates of HIV infection among Black women: the mass incarceration of Black men.
- The proven truth: Police treat Black Americans with less respect, by Lucius Couloute, June 8, 2017
New research out of Stanford University substantiates what Black America has always known - that police officers treat Blacks differently than they do whites.
- @AltBJS highlights important data on racial disparities in the criminal justice system, by Emily Widra, March 7, 2017
During Black History Month, the twitter user @AltBJS presented 28 under-discussed facts about racial disparities in the justice system. I collected the sources.
Data and visualizations that show how Native people are overrepresented in the criminal legal system in the United States.
Our reports on the "collateral consequences" of punishment (such as long-lasting barriers to employment) often include race breakdowns, revealing how incarceration has lasting effects for Black and brown communities.
By focusing law enforcement on low-level offenses and subjecting criminal defendants to money bail and other fees, our country punishes people for being poor. This unequal treatment hits people of color the hardest.
How much of mass incarceration is a result of policies about drugs? We measure the impact of the decades-long drug war and highlight specific policy failures.
Didn't find what you were looking for? We also curate a database of virtually all the empirical criminal justice research available online. See the section of our Research Library on race and ethnicity.