Sadly, there has been a long history of racial disparities in the criminal justice system here in the United States. Recent years have seen some of these disparities begin to shrink. Prison admission and arrest rates are down among black individuals.

However, there is one major area where, rather than decreasing, racial disparities have been increasing. This is length of time served in state prison.

In recent years, there has been growth in the gap in the amount of prison time served by black and white individuals in the U.S., both for violent and non-violent crimes.

While prison time for violent crimes have gone up for both white and black individuals in recent years, the rate of the increase has been almost twice as high for black individuals.

And, when it comes to property and drug offenses, different racial groups have been seeing very different trends. Average prison time served has actually dropped for white individuals for such crimes. Black individuals convicted of such crimes, meanwhile, have been seeing slight increases in prison time.

A lot of different factors are being suggested as possible contributors to these growing disparities, including:

  • Use of criminal history in sentencing
  • School zone and gang sentencing enhancements
  • Use of risk assessment tools
  • Possible increases in prosecutorial aggressiveness for sentences for “non-minor” crimes

How much prison time individuals serve for criminal offenses has big impacts on their life and future. This is among the many reasons why it is so important that everyone is treated fairly when it comes to sentencing. What would you like to see done to try to reduce racial disparities in prison time? What do you think would best help ensure that sentencing is fair?

Many different factors can play a role what the sentencing process results in for a given person. Given this complexity, it can be critical for individuals convicted of crimes to have knowledgeable and experienced legal support in their corner to stand up for them throughout the process.