Race and Criminal Justice
in the United States:
Some Introductory Remarks
Marvin D. Free, Jr.
Despite their shortcomings,1 the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) disclose some important facets of crime and the criminal justice system. Most apparent, perhaps, is the decline in crime in recent years. Total crime in the United States decreased 22 percent between 1991 and 2000 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001, p. 6). The decline in crime was not accompanied by a decline in total arrests, however. A further analysis of that ten-year period reveals that arrests vacillated by offense type. Arrests for Part I offenses (murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson) plummeted 25.3 percent. Concomitantly, arrests for Part II offenses rose, particularly drug abuse violations, which grew 49.4 percent (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001, p. 215). Also apparent from the UCR data is the overrepresentation of people of color. Although comprising less than 13 percent of the general population, African Americans made up 27.9 percent of the persons arrested in 2000. In the ubiquitous War on Drugs, African Americans accounted for 34.5 percent of drug abuse arrests (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001, table 43).
Youths in juvenile institutions are also disproportionately African American. According to a recent report sponsored by the Department of Justice and six leading foundations, African American youths without a previous juvenile incarceration record were over six times more likely than similarly situated white youths to be sentenced to juvenile prison by juvenile courts. The disparity was especially prominent for violent and