A new report written by Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project, reveals that white Americans’ association of people of color with criminality influences criminal justice policies, allowing for the creation of more punitive policies that disproportionately impact black and Latino Americans. The report, “Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies,” interrogates how racial perceptions of crime serve as a key driving force of criminal justice outcomes; it also offer recommendations and remedies for various stakeholders, including the media and researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, for how to limit their own and the public’s perceived linkages between race and crime, and temper its influence on criminal justice. As the report reads, “Dispelling the illusion that we are colorblind in our decision making is a crucial first step to mitigating the impact of implicit racial bias” (39).
According to the official press release by The Sentencing Project, key findings of the report include:
– White Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color, and associate people of color with criminality. For example, white respondents in a 2010 survey overestimated the actual share of burglaries, illegal drug sales, and juvenile crime committed by African Americans by 20-30%.
– Studies have shown that whites who associate crime with blacks and Latinos are more likely to support punitive policies – including capital punishment and mandatory minimum sentencing – than whites with weaker racial associations of crime.
– These patterns help to explain why whites are more punitive than blacks and Latinos even though they are less likely to be victims of crime. In 2013, a majority of whites supported the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, while half of Hispanics and a majority of blacks opposed this punishment.
– Racial perceptions of crime not only influence public opinion about criminal justice policies, they also directly influence the work of criminal justice practitioners and policymakers who operate with their own often-unintentional biases.