New Report on Race and Punishment in the Criminal Justice System

Key findings of the report include: 
  • White Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color, and associate people of color with criminality. For example, white respondents in a 2010 survey overestimated the actual share of burglaries, illegal drug sales, and juvenile crime committed by African Americans by 20-30%. 
  • Studies have shown that whites who associate crime with blacks and Latinos are more likely to support punitive policies – including capital punishment and mandatory minimum sentencing – than whites with weaker racial associations of crime. 
  • These patterns help to explain why whites are more punitive than blacks and Latinos even though they are less likely to be victims of crime. In 2013, a majority of whites supported the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, while half of Hispanics and a majority of blacks opposed this punishment.
  • Racial perceptions of crime not only influence public opinion about criminal justice policies, they also directly influence the work of criminal justice practitioners and policymakers who operate with their own often-unintentional biases.