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The acceptance of hard prison policies grows as the perception of racial inequality does

The acceptance of hard prison policies grows as the perception of racial inequality does

December 4, 2020

That, in general, in penitentiary institutions members of racially disadvantaged minorities are often held in a sad, well-known reality. However, the simple fact of knowing this information may help legitimize and perpetuate this type of inequality.

Prison and racism

At least, this is what some indications seem to indicate. Weeks ago we echoed a chilling study that revealed that African-American children in the US have racist prejudices against blacks. Today, in the same line we deal with the issue of the North American criminal and correctional system.

Two street studies conducted by Stanford University show a tendency for the white population of the United States to recognize the need to maintain hard policies with these minorities when they are confronted with evidence of this inequality. In other words: The more extreme this racial inequality is before the punitive system, the greater the acceptance generated by the policies that maintain this disparity .


How has this conclusion been reached?

First, 62 white people of both sexes were stopped on the street to talk to them about the three strikes law of California, a controversial judicial policy that especially attacks people who occasionally commit minor crimes and without violence. Then, they were shown a video that showed 80 photographs of "police file" in which arrested people were individually portrayed.

However, not all people saw exactly the same video. In one case, 25% of the arrested people who showed up were apparently African-American, while in another case the percentage of dark-skinned people was 45%. Finally, each of these 62 white people was offered the opportunity to sign a petition in favor of making the three strikes law less strict. The results: just under 55% of those who had seen in the video a relatively low number of arrested African-Americans signed, while in the second group only 28% signed .


Amazing results

In a similar study that used pedestrians in New York, results were found in the same line, this time referring to the policy of unjustified searches by the police. In that part of the sample that had perceived a more extreme prison inequality, 12% signed the petition to end this policy, while the other group signed almost 35%.

Based on these results, it can be interpreted that the white population of the United States supports more punitive hard-line policies when it perceives that the people who are arrested are largely African-American . A hypothetical greater fear of African-American criminals than any other type of delinquent could be at the root of this trend. In addition, this fear would be fueled in turn by this perception that "the African-American population is the one that fills the prisons", a situation that this prejudice would be feeding.


We would be, then, before a vicious circle that is maintained at least in part by a cognitive bias. Prison inequality would perpetuate itself by justifying itself to others through its own existence.


Why race in Brazil is a confusing, loaded topic (December 2020).


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