A new report by the Sentencing Project makes the case that racial bias drives national attitudes toward crime and punitive crime prevention strategies.

Collecting and summarizing various studies touching on the issue of race and crime, the report titled, “Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies,” finds that Whites overestimate the extent to which minorities participate in crime, while also supporting punitive approaches to crime prevention over non-punitive ones at rates higher than Blacks and Latinos.

One study cited in the report showed that White respondents overestimated Black participation in burglaries, illegal drug sales and juvenile crimes by 20 to 30 percent.  Another study found that Whites who over-attribute crime participation to Blacks are more likely to support harsher punitive measures, such as increased use of the death penalty and making criminal sentences generally more severe.

“By increasing support for punitive policies, racial perceptions of crime have made sentencing more severe for all Americans,” states the report. “The United States now has the world’s highest imprisonment rate, with one in nine prisoners serving life sentences. . . . Although B(lacks and Latinos together comprise just 30 of the general population, they account for 58 of the prison population.”

Race is also a striking factor in perceptions about the best approaches to crime reduction. Asked the best way to decrease crime, 58 percent of Blacks said investing in education and job training, compared to only 35 percent of Whites.

The report also documents the way local media often help drive racialized misperceptions about Black criminality, citing a study that found that while only 10 percent of crime reports involved a White victim and Black perpetrator, 42 percent of televised cases depict that dynamic.


Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO