American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 53, Issue 4 (2017)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


For decades, researchers and policymakers have been concerned about the disproportionate presence of blacks and Latinos in the criminal-justice system.1 While a fairly substantial proportion of these racial disparities can be explained by greater criminal involvement among blacks and Latinos in certain crimes,2 researchers continue to find that, even after controlling for differences in criminal behavior and other legally relevant factors, minorities are treated more punitively than similarly situated whites from arrest to sentencing in numerous jurisdictions.3 Consequently, researchers suggest that racial disparities arise not just from disproportionate criminal involvement or the disparate impact of facially neutral laws but also from differential treatment by criminal-justice officials, such as police officers, lawyers, probation officers, and judges.

While researchers have theorized how criminal-justice officials’ biases and stereotypes may result in differential treatment,4 researchers have little understanding of how officials make sense of the social problem of racial disparities and how, if at all, they work to address the problem.