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:
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.
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.