The current prison system is one that is mired in inequality, partially a product of a broken justice system. As Stanford University summates:
Although African-Americans constitute only 12 percent of America's population, they represent 40 percent of the nation's prison inmates.However, just as disturbing of a trend is our response to it. As a Stanford University study finds in 2 different field experiments:
...when white people were told about these racial disparities, they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities.In the first part of the study, 62 white voters were asked to look at a video mugshots of inmates. While one group saw a video where African Americans were 25% of mugshots, others saw one where the group made up more than half of the mugshots. Afterwards, voters were surveyed on whether or not they would support a bill easing up on one of California's notoriously strict prison laws.
The results were clear. Over half of the participants who'd seen the mug shots with fewer black men signed the petition, whereas only 27 percent of people who viewed the mug shots containing a higher percentage of black inmates agreed to sign. This was the case regardless of how harsh participants thought the law was.The second part of this experiment attempted to trace these results back to a causative factor, in this case being fear of crime. Participants were shown national statistics about the prison population, either the national African American incarceration rate (40%) or the NYC African American incarceration rate (60%). Again, participants were surveyed on their willingness to end a strict prison policy. The results were similar:
About 33 percent of the participants who saw the lower national statistic were willing to sign a petition to end the policy. But only 12 percent of those who saw the higher city rate of black incarceration were willing to sign the petition.But what exactly are the implications for the real world? One of the researchers, Rebecca Hetey explains:
Many legal advocates and social activists seem to assume that bombarding the public with images, statistics and other evidence of racial disparities will motivate people to join the cause and fight inequality. But we found that, ironically, exposure to extreme racial disparities may make the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the severity of policies that help maintain those disparities.Could our attempts to foster a national discussion on the disparity between racial representation actually act as a self-fulfilling prophecy, only deepening stereotypes and perpetuating fears of certain racial groups? I'd like to see your thoughts.