Black Men Get Longer Prison Sentences

Black Men Get Longer Prison Sentences November 18, 2017

A new study finds that black men receive longer jail and prison sentences for the same crimes committed by white men, even when you control for all the other factors that might be used to excuse such statistics. If this surprises you, you aren’t paying attention.


Black men who commit the same crimes as white men receive federal prison sentences that are, on average, nearly 20 percent longer, according to a new report on sentencing disparities from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).

These disparities were observed “after controlling for a wide variety of sentencing factors,” including age, education, citizenship, weapon possession and prior criminal history.

The black/white sentencing disparities have been increasing in recent years, the report found, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker in 2005. Booker gave federal judges significantly more discretion on sentencing by making it easier to impose harsher or more lenient sentences than the USSC’s sentencing guidelines called for.

Black men are also far more likely to be pulled over and have their vehicles searched, to be stopped and frisked on the sidewalks, more likely to be overcharged, and more likely to be convicted. At every single step of the process, the bias is obvious. And this is well-explained by a range of studies on implicit bias, which show that even those who are not explicitly racist will tend to have a stronger visceral reaction — fear, primarily — to black people than to white people. We are conditioned by a lifetime of media images to see black people as inherently more violent, so we fear them more and then that fear is used to justify the bias that results from it.

This is what Black Lives Matter is complaining about. This is what the NFL protesters are standing up against, along with the serious problem of police brutality against black people. And they’re right. And we should not let them fight this battle alone. As relatively privileged white people, we must also stand up to injustice and demand change.

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