Types of racial disparities
One type of racial disparity occurs when there is a significant difference between the percentage of a racial group represented in the general population and the percentage of the same group represented at any point in the justice process. For example, African‐Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for about 40 percent of all arrests, 50 percent of the prison population, and 50 percent of the inmates on death row. Another type of racial disparity appears whenever there is a significantly larger percentage of members of a racial/minority group involved in a part of the criminal justice system than whites. For instance, more than 9 percent of all African‐American adult males are in jail or prison or on probation or parole, compared with not quite 2 percent of all white adult males. To cite another example, blacks are four times as likely as whites to be arrested on drug charges—even though the two groups use drugs at almost the same rate.
The reasons racial disparities exist
Racial disparities in criminal justice are explained in three ways: differential involvement, individual racism, and institutional racism. First, African‐Americans and Hispanics are differentially involved in criminality—they commit more crimes. Their criminality is tied to the fact that these groups suffer from poverty and unemployment. Second, some of the disparities are due to the bigotry of individual police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, probation officers, parole officers, and parole board members. This individual racism consists of prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory behavior of individual criminal justice authorities against blacks and other minority group members. Third, part of the disparities can be attributed to institutional racism. This type of racism occurs whenever there are statutes, classifications, and practices that have a “disparate (unequal) impact” on racial minorities.