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Copyright (c) 2008 The University of Chicago
Crime and Justice

ARTICLE: The Malign Effects of Drug and Crime Control Policies on Black Americans


Crime and Justice

37 Crime & Just. 1


Michael Tonry and Matthew Melewski

Edited by Michael Tonry


Seen from outside the United States, and, we expect, as it will be seen by future generations of Americans, four aspects of contemporary crime control policies stand out: the world's highest imprisonment rate, the Western world's only use of capital punishment, the Western world's most severe punishments short of death, and the effects of those policies on black Americans. Gross racial disparities in imprisonment and entanglement in the criminal justice system result partly from racial differences in offending, but preponderantly from adoption and continuation of drug and crime control policies that affect black Americans much more severely than whites. Much of the harm being done to disadvantaged black Americans and their loved ones in the name of crime control was, and is, avoidable.

The litany of ways crime control policies disproportionately affect black Americans by now is so familiar as to be unsurprising. Blacks constituted 12.8 percent of the general population in 2005 but nearly half of prison inmates and 42 percent of Death Row residents. Imprisonment rates for black men were nearly seven times higher than for white men. About a third of young black men aged 20-29 were in prison or jail or on probation or parole on an average day in 2005. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimated in 2003 that 32 percent of black men born in 2001 will spend some part of their lives in a state or federal prison. That is a substantial underestimate of the likelihood that black men will ...
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