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Addressing Racial Disparities in Incarceration

September 12, 2011
In a special issue of The Prison Journal, Marc Mauer examines the causes and consequences of the extreme racial disparities in incarceration in the U.S. The article assesses effects on public safety and communities, and offers recommendations for reform in policy and practice to reduce unwarranted disparities.

While the nation has recognized the significance of having the first African American man as President, clearly societal issues of race are still very prevalent in the United States in the 21st century. What is striking about the discussion of race is how frequently national attention to these issues is focused on race and the criminal justice system.

Consider some of the key events in this regard: the 1992 police beating of motorist Rodney King in Los Angeles; the high profile criminal trial of O.J. Simpson; and the arrest and charges of racial profiling of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009.

However people may view the justice issues in these situations, they represent moments in our national life in which it becomes clear that longstanding differences in how we perceive the criminal justice system are still very evident today and, in many ways, continue to define the racial divide in the country. For these reasons, as well as ongoing concerns regarding public safety and the impact of incarceration on communities of color, it is critical to examine the contours and widespread effects of imprisonment trends of recent decades.

This essay overviews the following:

  • Mass incarceration’s current trends and its impact on communities of color;
  • Criminal justice system policy and practice contributors to racial disparities;
  • The impact of disproportionate rates of incarceration on public safety, offenders, and communities;
  • Recommendations for reform to reduce unwarranted racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

To read the essay, download the PDF below.

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