This briefing paper has reviewed trends in racial disparity in the criminal justice system, identified its causes, and presented a selection of best practices from past reforms. Criminal sentencing for racial minorities – both in its vast scale and its disproportionate rate relative to whites – has been harmful to public safety and damaging to communities of color. Criminal justice policy can be, and has been, improved through reforms that target the causes of this disparity: socioeconomic inequality that precede criminal justice contact, resource-allocation decisions in the criminal justice system, race neutral laws and policies that have a disparate racial impact, and implicit racial bias. Reforms include reducing barriers to re-entry, expanding resources for alternative sentencing, conducing racial impact assessments to reconsider and repeal discriminatory laws, and making discretionary decision making informed and accountable. With declining crime rates, increased concern about public budgets, and growing moral ambivalence about the War on Drugs, we may be beginning a new chapter in American criminal justice. With a clear understanding of the problems and an assessment of successful efforts to date, we can create more just outcomes.
Population of focus: Policy makers
Link to resource: Incorporating Racial Equity into Criminal Justice Reform (pdf)
Organization: The Sentencing Project