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Commentary By Jason L. Riley

No, the Criminal-Justice System Isn’t Racist

Another academic paper finds scant support for the theory that bias causes incarceration disparities.

The notion that the U.S. criminal-justice system is stacked against black people has gained currency since the death of George Floyd. It’s often cited as a basis for everything from ending cash bail and closing prisons to legalizing drugs, decriminalizing petty theft and offering reparations to the descendants of slaves. But is it supported by the evidence?

Not according to a new academic paper by two Stetson University sociologists, Christopher Ferguson and Sven Smith. After analyzing 51 studies on sentencing disparities that were published between 2005 and 2022, they conclude that “overrepresentation among perpetrators of crime explains incarceration disparities to a greater degree than does racism in the criminal justice system.” In other words, blacks are incarcerated at higher rates than other groups because they commit crimes at higher rates, not due to systemic bias.

Some of the studies found that “race had little clear impact on criminal adjudication,” while others found that “Black defendants receive more lenient sentences than Whites.” Tellingly, the authors note that “better quality studies were less likely to produce results supportive of disparities,” which raises the possibility that conventional wisdom about race and criminal justice is not only misguided but also drawing on sloppy research.

Continue reading the entire piece here at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)


Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator. Follow him on Twitter here.

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