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Race and Crime in the United States Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 21st, 2020


Although African Americans comprise approximately 13 percent of the total U.S. population, they usually represent a much larger proportion of people who are convicted of various offences and incarcerated (Mackey, & Levan, 2011, p. 99). This tendency is particularly noticeable among males whose age ranges from 25 to 29. Black males are much more likely to be incarcerated than Hispanic or non-Hispanic white people.

This paper is aimed at discussing possible factors that contribute to this disparity. It is vital to examine social and demographic characteristics of these people. Additionally, one of the tasks is to look the work of criminal justice system and the way in which it can treat individuals who are either accused of convicted of crime. This discussion can show why black males may be overrepresented in American prisons.

Incarceration rates among black males

According to the data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2010), black non-Hispanic males have an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates for every 100.000 of American citizens (p. 2). In turn, the incarceration rate of non-Hispanic white men is 708 convictions per 100.000 residents (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010, p. 2). Finally, the imprisonment rate of Hispanic males is approximately 1.822 inmates per every 100.000 of the population.

Overall, these findings indicate that there are significant disparities existing between black men on the one hand and white or Hispanic males on the other. As it has been said before, the percentage of African-American convicts in prisons is much large that the percentage of black people in America.

Therefore, it is important to examine the factors that may increase this disparity. The problem is that it can result from the failure of governmental institutions. Its origins cannot be explained only by individual behavior.

Variables that are associated with crime

The researchers, who examine the origins of high incarceration and conviction rates among black males, focus mostly on the demographic characteristics of these people. These variables can throw much light on the connection between race and crime. In their study Bradley Wright and Wesley Younts (2009) identify such factors as lack of educational or employment opportunities or acceptance of illegal activities in some neighborhoods (p. 336).

The majority of black people, who are incarcerated or convicted, usually come from neighborhoods that have such characteristics as high unemployment, a great number of abandoned houses, vandalism, and the availability of alcoholic beverages or drugs (Wright & Younts, 2009, p. 338). As a rule, people do not feel much attachment to these neighborhoods.

In many cases, illegal activities such as drug dealing can be turned into routine and they are not properly prevented or investigated. Additionally, people frequently come from single-parent families which means they are more likely to be economically disadvantaged (Wright & Younts, 2009, p. 342). These are some of the most important factors.

Finally, one should note that a great number of black offenders do not high level of educational attainment (Kaufman et al, 2008, p. 426). According to Joanne Kaufman et al, African-American males may often be placed in the low educational tracks which means that they are often unable to work with the most experienced and skillful teachers (Kaufman et al, 2008, p. 426).

Finally, one should take into consideration that schools with a large proportion of black students are frequently underfinanced and have fewer resources in comparison with those schools that are attended mostly by white students (Kaufman et al, 2008, p. 427). Thus, it is possible to assume that these people do not have access to well-paid jobs.

These are very important social and demographic characteristics that researchers should not disregard. The thing is that they are not related to race or ethnicity; more likely they can be explained by the failures of governmental institutions. This is why policy-makers first pay more attention to economic and social origins of crime.

The treatment of black males in the courts

The work of criminal justice system is another important aspect that cannot be overlooked. One can refer to the study done by Marit Rehavi and Sonja Starr (2012) who examine the factors affecting criminal charging and sentencing of an individual. First of all, these scholars argue that in the United States criminal prosecutors may choose the initial charges that can later affect the sentences imposed on a person (Rehavi & Starr, 2012, p. 1).

For instance, theft committed by a person can be classified either as violent or non-violent crime depending upon the perspective of the prosecutor (Rehavi & Starr, 2012, p. 5). Moreover, there are minimum sentences that are supposed to be imposed for a certain crime or offence; however, courts may impose a more severe punishment provided there are some aggravating circumstances (Rehavi & Starr, 2012, p. 25).

Overall, the findings suggest that black male defendants usually receive sentences that are on average 10 percent longer in comparison with white people who commit similar offences (Rehavi & Starr, 2012, p. 24). Such disparities often manifest themselves when courts examine drug offences or property crimes. This is one of the issues that people should not overlook.

There are several statistical findings supporting this premise that African American males can be discriminated in the criminal courts. For example white people, who plea guilty, usually receive a 28 percent reduction of their sentences (Crutchfield, Fernandez, & Martinez, 2010, p. 926). In contrast, black defendants are normally only a 13 percent reduction (Crutchfield, Fernandez, & Martinez, 2010, p. 926).

Secondly, one should note black male defendants are more likely to be denied bail than white people or Hispanic or Latino Americans (Crutchfield, Fernandez, & Martinez, 2010, p. 926). Thirdly, they are often denied non-financial bail. On the whole, these examples indicate that racial prejudices may affect the decisions of legal professionals even in the twenty-first century.

Moreover, one should note the sentence imposed by the court is often determined by the skills of the defense attorney who is supposed to protect the rights of an individual in the court. The problem is that unlike white or Hispanic males, African Americans may not be able to afford the services of such a professional.

Certainly, this person can receive the assistance of the government attorney, but in many cases it is not sufficient, especially in comparison with the best lawyers who may be hired by a well-to-do person. Therefore, it is not permissible to exclude the economic factors when discussing crime and sentencing.

The researchers also point out that non-Hispanic black people usually do not put much trust in the integrity of the jury (Rose, Ellison, & Diamond, 2008, p. 375). One of their major concerns is that these people are more likely to support the prejudices and biases that can exist in the society (Rose, Ellison, & Diamond, 2008, p. 375). Again, there were cases, when jurors’ decisions could be influenced by their views of race.

For example, one can mention the Scottsboro rape cases when black defendants were unjustly convicted (Rose, Ellison, & Diamond, 2008, p. 374). Certainly, the situation has changed within the last five decades, and modern jurors can represent diverse racial or ethnic groups. However, the prejudice of jurors or judges may still manifest themselves in the courts. So, this problem still has to be addressed.

Additionally, it is important to remember that black people are underrepresented in legal profession. For instance, among 1298 federal judges who now work in the United States, only 109 are African Americans (Neubauer, & Fradella, 2010, p. 196).

Overall, this number constitutes only 8.4 percent of the total population of federal judges. In turn, there are 72 Hispanic federal judges which is approximately 5.5 percent (Neubauer, & Fradella, 2010, p. 196). Thus, one can assume that the majority of federal judges are white people and some of them may be prejudiced against black defendants.

Possible ways of reducing the racial disparities in the criminal justice system

At this point, there is no universal strategy that can address the problem of racial inequality in the criminal justice system. The examples provided in this paper indicate that African-American males, whose age ranges between 25 and 29, are more likely to be incarcerated. More importantly, this problem cannot be always explained by the behavior of individuals; more likely it can be attributed the failure of policies.

Possible solution of this problem may require complex actions on the part of the government. As it has been said before, many of the convicts are people who have very little educational and employment opportunities. This is why the government should bring more funds to those schools attended by minority students.

Secondly, police has to pay more attention to the prevention and investigation of illegal activities that may take place in the neighborhoods where many of such male convicts can live. One of their tasks is to decrease the available of drugs in these places.

Additionally, it is important to look at the work of criminal justice system. The statistical evidence shows that black males are at a significant risk of discrimination in the court. Thus, legal professionals should develop a set of institutional safeguards protecting a person from discrimination according to racial or ethnic criteria. For instance, criminal prosecutors and judges should adhere to strict sentencing guidelines that do not allow a person impose different penalties for the same type of crime.


Despite the fact that the American society has become much more egalitarian in terms of race, empirical evidence suggests that black people can become the victims of racial prejudices in the courts. Certainly, many of these people may indeed be guilty of various crimes, but in many cases, they do not receive the same treatment.

Overall, high incarceration rates of black males have several important origins. One can primarily speak about their social characteristics, especially lack of educational or employment opportunities. Secondly, policy-makers should remember about the practices of criminal prosecutors and judges. These are the most important issues that the government should address.

Reference List

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2009). Statistical Tables. Web.

Crutchfield, R. Fernandez, A. & Martinez, J. (2010). Racial and ethnic disparity and criminal justice: how much is too much?. Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology, 100(3), 903-932.

Kaufman, J. M., Rebellon, C. J., Thaxton, S., & Agnew, R. (2008). A General Strain Theory of Racial Differences in Criminal Offending. Australian & New Zealand Journal Of Criminology (Australian Academic Press), 41(3), 421-437.

Mackey, D. & Levan, K. (2011). Crime Prevention. New York: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Neubauer, D. & Fradella, H. (2010). America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System. New York: Cengage Learning.

Rehavi, M & Starr, Sonja B. (2012). . Web.

Rose, M. R., Ellison, C., & Diamond, S. (2008). Preferences for Juries Over Judges Across Racial and Ethnic Groups. Social Science Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing Limited), 89(2), 372-391.

Wright, B., & Younts, C. (2009). Reconsidering the Relationship between Race and Crime: Positive and Negative Predictors of Crime among African American Youth. Journal Of Research In Crime & Delinquency, 46(3), 327-352.

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