Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies, The Sentencing Project (2014)

White Papers and Reports

This report from The Sentencing Project outlines how racial perceptions of crime have distorted the criminal legal system and undermined public safety. For example, Whites overestimate how much crime is committed by Black and Latinx Americans, and they also favor punitive criminal law policies more than people of color. In fact, Whites who more strongly associate crime with racial minorities are even more supportive of punitive policies. The report found that media crime coverage; policymakers’ actions and statements; and criminal law practitioners, such as law enforcement and prosecutors, all operate with and reinforce racial perceptions of crime. The results include racial disparities in targeting, prosecutions, and severe criminal punishment, as well as mistrust in the criminal legal system.

The report’s findings are instructive as to advocacy efforts focused on HIV criminal laws, which are one segment of the over-criminalization of communities of color. Limited research shows Black and Latinx Americans face disproportionate prosecution for “HIV exposure.” This adds to the HIV burden on communities of color, which also have disproportionately high HIV rates, particularly among young Black men who have sex with men.