New Report Says Government Should Find Ways to Reduce Police Stops, Detention, and Long Sentences in Order To Reduce Racial Inequity


By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Washington, DC – A long awaited reported from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on racial inequity, found that in order to reduce the lonstanding problem in the criminal legal system, , local, state, and federal government should explore ways to reduce police stops and searches, jail detention, prison admission, and long sentences.

The new report released on Tuesday morning recommends “governments explore coordinated policy reforms across each stage of the criminal justice system — pointing to drug sentencing reform, providing “second look” provisions for long sentences, eliminating revocations of community supervision for technical violations, and eliminating the death penalty as examples of reforms that could reduce racial inequality while maintaining public safety.”

The report goes more broadly to argue, “governments should also explore reforms that address economic, environmental, educational, and public health disparities.”

The report, Reducing Racial Inequality in Crime and Justice: Science, Practice, and Policy, cites decades of research that has documented substantial racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice process.

“Black Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans all experience higher rates of arrest, pre-trial detention, incarceration, and community supervision compared to White people,” the report finds looking across venues that include policing, pretrial detention, plea bargaining, sentencing, all the way through to executions.

“While racial disparities in incarceration have declined over the last two decades, these communities still face relatively high rates of imprisonment. The impacts of disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system for Black, Latino, and Native American communities also persist,” the report concludes.

Racial inequality in criminal justice is tied to current and historical inequalities in crime and neighborhood conditions, says the report. Because of these ties, criminal justice reforms that aim to reduce inequality could be amplified by also addressing social inequalities, the report explains.

“Research tells us that the relationship between racial inequality in criminal justice and racial inequality more broadly is a pernicious and persistent feedback loop,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. “These perpetuating effects of inequality can lead to continual criminal justice involvement for individuals, severely impacting neighborhoods and communities.”

Among the key trends:

  • Homicide victimization. With the exception of homicide victimization, racial disparities in victimization have narrowed considerably over the past three decades. However, racial disparities in homicide rates have grown wider since 2010, with Black Americans, American Indians, and Latinos at higher risk of homicide victimization than White and Asian Americans. These disparities grew as overall homicide rates rose sharply during the period 2014 to 2016 and again from 2019 to the present.
  • Police interactions and arrests. Police officers stop and search Black individuals at rates that are higher than for other racial and ethnic groups.
  • Pretrial detention. Between 2005 and 2019, the rate of detention in jail, per-capita, was well over three times higher for Black Americans than for either Whites or Latinos. A growing literature attributes part of this racial disparity in jail populations to the common practice of requiring defendants to post cash bail in order to be released from jail between their preliminary hearings and the resolution of their cases.
  • Sentencing and corrections. The absolute Black-White disparity in incarceration rates narrowed between 1999 and 2018, and the Black/White incarceration-rate ratio also declined, from 6.23 to 4.24. Over this same period, the Latino-White incarceration rate differential narrowed, while the Latino/White incarceration rate ratio declined from 2.18 to 1.56. For American Indians, however, there was a widening in absolute as well as relative incarceration rates relative to Whites, with the absolute incarceration rate differential increasing and the corresponding ratios increasing from 2.18 to 3.02.
  • Community Supervision. The probation population dropped by almost 20 percent between 2007 and 2019. Despite that drop, the racial makeup of the population under probation

supervision changed little from 2007 to 2019.

The report argues that three key processes are important contributors to this racial inequality in criminal justice involvement.

First, “the early stages of the system—including police stops, jail confinement, misdemeanor courts, and fines and fees—generate vast numbers of contacts (relative to White communities) between the police and courts on the one hand and Black, Latino, and Native American communities on the other.”

Second, “sustained criminal justice involvement is produced through a cumulative process that may increase disparity with movement through the system.”

Third, “the criminal justice system ensnares large segments of a disproportionately minority population on the front end for whom social problems related to concentrated poverty, including but not limited to serious crime, engender a criminal justice response involving arrest and penal control.”

The report further notes, “Criminal justice policies that broaden system surveillance and enforcement, combined with key points of discretion (for example, at arrest, pretrial detention, sentencing, parole release, and parole revocation) contribute to racial inequality by increasing the likelihood of criminal justice contact among low-income Black, Latino, and Native American populations.”

They argue, that these policies “exacerbate the harm of criminal justice contact among these populations, particularly those who live in settings that have suffered the most harm from historical patterns of residential and economic exclusion based on race and ethnicity.”

It adds, “Racial disparities at each stage may compound across the system, creating greater racial inequality at the end, in imprisonment and re-imprisonment through parole revocation, than at the beginning with police contact.”

“With a rise in urban homicide rates since 2020, there have been calls to scale back recent criminal justice reforms. But research shows it is possible to improve outcomes for communities that feel the worst effects of criminal justice inequality without increasing crime,” added Bruce Western, Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice and director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University, and committee co-chair. “Violent crime is a racial equity issue, and there are many significant examples of reducing crime while also reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

The report recommends federal and state agencies explore the significant expansion and evaluation of community-driven programs to improve safety and reduce harm from the criminal justice system.

Community-driven approaches include initiatives in which residents build capacity to prevent violence through violence interruption programs, or efforts to enhance accountability and transparency among law enforcement.  Research shows suggestive but incomplete results as to the effectiveness of community-driven approaches, and additional research is needed, as results are mixed across studies and locations, the report says.

Federal agencies and philanthropic organizations should also support research examining tribal models of justice, to better understand the potential for Indigenous-based approaches to be used in non-tribal communities and to reduce racial inequalities.

The report also recommends additional research to provide data on views of resident safety. Research funders should support a variety of research methodologies to expand the available evidence base from which to build solutions. The report also emphasizes the importance of engaging communities that have direct experience with the criminal justice system as partners in policy design, implementation, and research.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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