Race and Crime: Is There a Correlation?

Subject: Law
Pages: 9
Words: 2480
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: College

Abstract

Crime has always been a topic closely connected with race and ethnicity. In the United States of America, where a large variety of different groups of people intersect and interact, discussions of criminality and statistics have permeated public discourse for multiple decades. Statistically, the US currently boasts a disproportionate rate of incarceration for people of color compared to white citizens. There are a number of different explanations for such disparities, but most sources agree that a number of social and historical reasons have influenced the outcomes people see today. However, it is currently still valuable and important to discuss the implications and correlations between crime and race, which have come into the light of public discourse in recent years. The difference presents both a problem of government regulation, law, and national policy and a potential avenue for improvement.

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By using existing literature and studies on the topic, this paper examines the correlations between racial profiles of people and criminality in the US. As shown by statistical evidence, people of color in the United States experience increased scrutiny over their behavior and harsher punishments, leading to worse outcomes. Additionally, the history and continued practices of racial profiling contribute to a negative correlation between race and criminal behaviors.

Objectives

Examine the existing correlations between people’s race and their experiences within the justice system. Compare and contrast the rates of incarceration and prison sentencing, as well as look into the continued practices of racial profiling.

Methods

A literature review encompassing four works discussing questions of police racial profiling, the justice system and the prison demographics. The chosen articles were picked in accordance with a number of keywords and specific searching criteria. In particular, those regarding specific systems of power and their interactions were chosen.

Results

The results of the examination show that there are a number of statistical and systematic influences on the way race and crime statistics interact. The difference in law enforcement attitudes, treatment of the justice system, and other factors all coalesce to create an environment where crime is disproportionally seen in people of color. In particular, a number of correlations and differences were noted regarding the impact of race on criminality and its relationship with the law.

Conclusions

Significant Disparities exist between members of different racial groups, leading to a correlation in crime statistics and race. White people systematically experience less harsh sentences for crimes similar to their black, Hispanic, or Asian counterparts and generally serve lesser time in prisons and other incarceration facilities. The communities of people of color are historically over-policed and experience a significant difference in welfare and other benefits. Redlining and similar practices have contributed to the continued existence of disparities in American society.

Introduction

History/Background

Historically, American society has had a difficult relationship with race. Founded on the principles of freedom, equality and liberty, the United States of America struggled to make its declarations reflect the actual state of the nation. While the founding fathers and other important figured set legislation and principles for the country in stone, whole groups of people were systematically denied rights and freedoms white men at the time enjoyed. The systematic imbalance between white people and people of color has manifested itself into economical, social and political differences that impact the nation to this day. In particular, it can be noted that people of color, with black people in particular, have continuously been regarded with stigma and distrust by both the judicial system and law enforcement.

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Before the Civil Rights movement, many races in the united states were denied their autonomy, freedoms and liberties, having to live in specifically outlined zones of the country in many cases. Even after the changes to the legislation of the US and the abolition of slavery, the effects of injustice could still be seen in practices such as redlining and income inequality. All of these factors have built up to the current climate of the United States. Despite written equality of people before the law in terms of their race, ethnicity and identity, some people still experience the world in a worse way than others.

Theoretical Perspectives on Race and Crime

A number of perspectives exist regarding the relationship between race and criminality in the United States. In particular, the discussion centers on arguing about the existence of systematic issues within the US justice system and the police. Those that stand behind the current legislative and administrative structures generally argue for their fairness and look at the apparent statistical disparities as a result of a personal choice or specific qualities of people of color.

These arguments come partially from the past injustices suffered by people of color and their effects. A lesser generational wealth, increased poverty and practices of redlining have lead to people of color living in worse neighborhoods. Proponents argue that the worsened living conditions increasingly lead people of color to commit crimes, which then contributes to their incarceration rates and statistics. Alternatively, some people argue that certain groups of people, usually the black population of America, are more prone to crime or violence, which also contributed to existing statistics of crime.

Alternative views on this issue more often than not focus on the particular systematic aspects of American society that inadvertedly lead certain groups of people to increased rates of incarceration. Liberal and progressive scholars often discuss the influence pre-dispositions of the police force have on crime and its prevention. In particular, it can be noted that the majority of people that join the police are conservative in their politics, and permeating effects of toxic masculinity and white supremacy have a considerable effect on the police body as a whole. While there are non-white policemen as well, the overall character of law enforcement is seen as white. Due to existing stereotypes and crime statistics, the areas where people of color are a majority often become overpoliced, leading to more law enforcement being sent to particular areas.

An increased police presence means increased rates of police apprehension and escalation of public tension, which both lead to more violence and general crime. The inflated crime rates, then, are taken into account when distributing police forces and incorporated into the system, which perpetuates itself. Additionally, many people of color have less income than white people, leading to problems in court and the justice system.

Many defendants are unable to pay court fees or afford bail, setting them at a disadvantage. Furthermore, progressive politicians and scholars argue that people of color most often receive unfair or disproportionate punishment for their crimes, which leads to more POC staying in prisons for long amounts of time. The combination of the two factors creates a systemic environment where Asian, Hispanic, black and other demographics exist at a disadvantage before the law.

Methodology

Data, Unit of analysis, Measures

The present work is a literature review discussing some of the data regarding criminality and race in the United States of America. The papers were read and analyzed in regards to their validity for this overview, as well as general relevance to American society. The topics touched upon and examined in the works were seen as generally important to the questions of crime and race, therefore meriting their inclusion as necessary.

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Over-policing

One of the present problems in many communities of color is a continued and permeating police presence. Police exist as an inherently antagonistic force, one that is a source of tension for many marginalized people, as they have a prolonged legacy of violence against particular groups of people. As discussed by the paper Cobbina-Dungy and Jones-Brown, law enforcement has used force against unarmed people in the past, leading to animosity and distrust.

For many people, the police have existed as a tool of keeping control and protecting the population, while people of color increasing see it as a tool of oppression and discrimination. As shown by a study conducted by Motley and Joe, the police force are much more likely to use harsh and violent methods when interacting with people of color, even when a situation does not warrant such approaches. The difference in treatment contributed to a general climate of mutual distaste between marginalized communities and the police.

Race and Sentencing

Race plays a large role in the judicial system as well, contributing to the quality of outcomes for many people. While the legislation regarding crime and punishment is made to be as fair and balanced as possible, the actual applications of law vary depending on the situation. In particular, each particular offense can be treated lightly or harshly, altering the amount of time a person must serve for it. An overview presented by the United States Sentencing Commission presents data that suggests that there are particular differences between sentences for white people and people of color.

In particular, it has been found that black men have 7.9 percent difference in the length of sentencing compared to their white counterparts (Demographic differences in sentencing). Within the same bracket of crimes, black men consistently serve longer time in prison. The disparities in prison time often lead to people of color staying in prisons longer, being separated from their families and not contributing to society in a meaningful way.

Police Treatment

The actions of the police and their treatment of people of color are a major consideration for crime statistics, as the interactions between POC and law enforcement shape the public’s understanding of the issue and influence judicial outcomes. For this discussion, it is important to consider the training and attitudes of the police force. Systematically, people in the police are trained to display force and hostility as their main tool, with methods that are antithetical to de-escalation and peaceful resolution of crime (Cobbina-Dungy and Jones-Brown). In such an environment, the increased focus of police on people of color becomes a problem, where a dangerous structure of power negatively affects a demographic.

Police as an institution constantly increase their presence in areas where non-white people live, using their hostile approaches to confront “suspicious behavior” and further combat perceived crime. However, such confrontations often lead to unnecessary violence, with police more likely to use harsher methods on people of color. Additionally, an elevated police presence increases the number of provoked crimes, where law enforcement intentionally sets up a criminal situation to catch an individual. The combination of police attitudes with their presence in specific areas of the US and their treatment of POC contributes to an environment where criminality among non-white people is increased.

Mass Incarceration and Prison Race Statistics

Mass incarceration is one of the most well-known and important problems of American society. As discussed by a number of prominent politicians, scholars and thinkers, the United States of America has the largest industrial system in the world, contributing to the exploitation of millions of people per year (Schoenfeld). The prison system additionally endangers poor and marginalized communities more than others, which is a result of a number of other systematic problems present in the United States (Schoenfeld). People of color and black men in particular continuously face mistreatment in prison, in addition to more often facing prison time than their white counterparts. Furthermore, the relatively low income of these populations makes it more difficult for them to exist within the prison system and recover from its influence.

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The lasting financial and social effects of the industrial prison system have a detrimental impact on communities of color. An inability of former convicts to reintegrate into society hinders the creation of generational wealth and increases the potential criminality of a community. The disparities present in the prison system and the increasingly large number of people stuck inside the industrial prison complex serve as the demonstration of the effects of differences in crime statistics present in the US.

Results

As a result of examining and reviewing the materials, this paper asserts that the concept of race is strongly correlated with crime and criminality as a whole. In accordance with the current understanding of race as a social factor, it is evident that it plays a difference in the way society treats the American population. Firstly, over-policing exists as a major issue in American society, where communities of color experience an increased police presence, leading to more societal tension and other problems. Secondly, race plays a vital part in the way people are treated by the justice system.

It has been noted by reviews and statistics that people of color, with black men in particular, often receive harsher and longer sentences compared to their white counterparts. Thirdly, the treatment of people of color by the police significantly differs to that of white citizens, considerably altering the view of the former in the public eye and the outcome of encounters with the police. Lastly, then, it has become apparent that mass incarceration disproportionally influences and affects particular demographics in a population, notably – people of color. The differences brought upon by the prison industrial complex serve as proof of the disparities existing in the current social landscape of the US.

Tables and Figures

Average Sentence for White Male and Black Male Offenders
1 – Average Sentence for White Male and Black Male Offenders (Demographic differences in sentencing).

Conclusion

As seen by the review of present literature and subsequent discussion, the race is an important component of living in the United States and the interaction of people with the various systems of power. The police, the prison complex and the justice system, in particular, display an astonishing number of disparities between white people and people of color. The correlation of race and crime, however, is not as straightforward as it can be assumed from statistics alone.

While the increased number of people of color in prisons and crime statistics is an existing problem, it is not a statistic that demonstrates particular inherent qualities for people of color. Instead, it demonstrates the effects of particular social trends on American demographics. In particular, continued practices of over-policing, racial profiling and discrimination from the police influence the way people of color are seen in the public eye and by the justice system as a whole.

A hostile relationship between the two groups adds to the rates of instigated violence and provoked criminality, which then shapes the police statistics and distribution among the population. In particular, it influences the way people are treated on a systematic level and leads to disproportionate rates of reported crime from particular parts of society. A combination of various emerging and existing historical factors works to create the environment of today, where people of color are put at a significant disadvantage compared to their white counterparts. The discussions of race and criminality continue to be complicated due to a variety of contributing and interlacing factors that have to be taken into account. However, the necessity of providing equal treatment and outcomes to all members of American society becomes more clear with each year.

Works Cited

Cobbina-Dungy, Jennifer E., and Delores Jones-Brown. “Too Much Policing: Why Calls Are Made to Defund the Police.” Punishment & Society, 2021, p. 146247452110456. Web.

Demographic Differences in Sentencing.United States Sentencing Commission. 2021. Web.

Motley, Robert O., and Sean Joe. “Police Use of Force by Ethnicity, Sex, and Socioeconomic Class.” Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, vol. 9, no. 1, 2018, pp. 49–67. Web.

Schoenfeld, Heather. Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration. The University of Chicago Press, 2018.