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Racial Disproportionality in the American Prison Population : Using the Blumstein Method to Address the Critical Race and Justice Issue of the 21 st Century

by Brett E Garland, Cassia Spohn, Eric J Wodahl
Justice Policy Journal ()
  • ISSN: 15303012


Statistics indicate that racial/ethnic minorities, particularly black and Hispanic males, face a disproportionately high risk of incarceration in the United States. We argue that this is the most serious issue facing contemporary criminal justice policymakers. This determination is made by assessing the negative impact that incarceration can have on individuals, their communities, and the integration of minorities into the nation’s larger social, economic, and political landscape. Our paper also reviews literature that uses Alfred Blumstein’s method of calculating the amount of racial disproportionality in prisons that is explained by arrest rates. This review identifies a number of themes in the research. Two key themes are that a national figure of explained racial disparity in imprisonment is not generalizable to the states and that drug offenses consistently have one of the lowest amounts of disproportionality explained by arrest. The paper concludes by discussing several new opportunities to use Blumstein’s method in the study of race and justice. A couple of these opportunities include using the Blumstein method to monitor locations of potential discrimination across the country and guide research on judicial discrimination in prison sentencing.

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