A Response to Vaush’s Ultimate Research Document: Racism in the Criminal Justice System

Vaush is wrong.


About a few months ago, the Youtuber Vaush released something he called the Ultimate Research Document which you can find by clicking here. This document is a collection of sources that are useful for debates, and the sources obviously support a left wing position on different social issues like SRS, LGTB+, and existence of racism in the criminal justice system. While I am not very interested in things like SRS and LGTB+ issues, I am interested in the section dedicated to showing racism in the criminal justice system. Due to this, a blogger friend of mine, our friend, and I decided to make a response to this specific section. None of us had any plans on releasing this but the document seems to have been picking up steam recently, and so this is a much needed response to it.

The way this post is broken down is simple. Anything part of a list will be the claim made in the document, and what comes next is the response to it. For example:

  • What the study says

Our response follows right after

I have also broken this down into different sections, so any study that makes a similar claim as another study will be in the same section. It’s pretty simple, so I don’t need to explain it much. Regardless, let us move onto our response.

Introduction Studies

  • Extensive document on racial biases in our criminal justice system.
  • Studies seem to indicate about 61-80% of black overrepresentation in prisons can be explained by higher black crime rates, with the unexplained portion largely attributable to racial bias.
  • Remember – the factors which lead to disproportionate criminality amongst black Americans are also in large part a product of racial bias. Underfunded public programs, redlining, generational poverty, bad schooling, and myriad other factors which influence criminality can also be traced to racial bias.

The issue of why blacks commit crime is a topic for another day, but the studies argued to show that 61%-80% of the variance in black overrepresentation in prison are based on seeing if UCR crime reports match up with arrests. They do not, mostly because the UCR is said to not capture the dark figures of crime. Furthermore, looking at NCVS data shows that what these studies find is probably not true. Studies looking at the NCVS and official crime databases yield essentially similar racial differences as do official statistics (La Free 1996, in Hawkins 1995; Wilbanks 1987). For example, after examining data over a 3-year period, O’Brien (2001, in Walsh and Ellis 2006) found that crime reports matched up with crime arrests for race, meaning that blacks were being arrested at the same rate that they committed crimes (see Wilson and Herrenstien 1985 for more). Harris (2006) found that the overrepresentation of non-whites in jail reflects their crime rates, not racial bias. In 1996, the black criminologist Becky Tatum (1996 [in African-American perspectives on crime causation, criminal justice Administration and crime prevention, pp 33-52]) concluded that, “The overrepresentation of African Americans in crime and delinquency is reaffirmed by victimization…data.” Since there are racial differences in criminality (Beaver, Ellis, and Wright 2009), it’s no surprise that the overrepresentation of non-whites in jail align with their higher crime rates (D’Alessio and Stolzenberg 2003) and not racial bias in police arrests. Thus, to the degree racial bias is responsible for the remaining variance is hard to trust if official crime reports match up with crime arrests.

  • Between 2012 and 2014, black people in Ferguson accounted for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations and 93 percent of arrests, despite comprising 67 percent of the population.
  • Blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be searched after traffic stops even after controlling for related variables, though they proved to be 26 percent less likely to be in possession of illegal drugs or weapons.
  • Between 2011 and 2013, blacks also received 95 percent of jaywalking tickets and 94 percent of tickets for “failure to comply.” The Justice Department also found that the racial discrepancy for speeding tickets increased dramatically when researchers looked at tickets based on only an officer’s word vs. tickets based on objective evidence, such as a radar.
  • Black people facing similar low-level charges as white people were 68 percent less likely to see those charges dismissed in court. More than 90 percent of the arrest warrants stemming from failure to pay/failure to appear were issued for black people.

The Ferguson report, according to Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has been noted to be “so buffoonish, so replete with conclusions unsupported by facts, so lacking in basic methodological rigor” (in Kirsanow 2015). This is expanded on down below, but the main takeaway for readers is that racial differences in driving behavior are responsible for this differences.

Biases in Stops, Searches and Arrests

  • The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties
    • While White & Black Americans admit to using and selling illicit drugs at similar rates, Black Americans are VASTLY more likely to go to prison for a drug offense.
    • In 2002, Black Americans were incarcerated for drug offenses at TEN TIMES the rate of White Americans.
    • Today, Blacks are 3.7x as likely to be arrested for a marijuana offense as Whites, despite similar usage.
    • 97% of “large-population counties” have racial biases in their drug offense incarceration.

By using self-reported drug use survey data, this study — and the others it cited — found that blacks and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates. The major error with this is that it assumes people are being honest when answering surveys on crime, especially blacks. According to Cernkovich, Giordano, and Rudolph (2000: 143), there is “evidence that black males’ self-reports of delinquency are less valid than the reports of other groups: Black males underreport involvement at every level of delinquency, especially at the high end of the continuum.” When it comes to drug use specifically, blacks are more likely to lie about not using drugs when they in fact have. Criminologists have found that when asked if drugs have been used recently, blacks are more likely to say they have not used drugs; testing them shows that they’re more likely to lie about not using drugs when they actually did (Page et al. 2009; Falk et al. 1992; Feucht, Stephens, and Walker 1994; Fedrich and Johnson 2005; Miyong, Hill, and Martha 2003; Ledgerwood et al. 2008; Fendrich and Xu 1994). When it comes to dealing drugs, I am not aware of any study that controls for the issue of lying, so that specific claim is in the air. Although, the pattern of lying within blacks cast doubts on the claim that “White & Black Americans admit to …selling illicit drugs at similar rates.”

Even if we ignore this data and assume that blacks and whites do have similar drug habits, blacks being arrested for drugs at a higher rate can be explained by blacks being reckless when buying and using drugs. Ramchand, Pacula, and Iguchi (2006) noted that “African Americans are nearly twice as likely to buy outdoors (0.31 versus 0.14), three times more likely to buy from a stranger (0.30 versus 0.09), and significantly more likely to buy away from their homes (0.61 versus 0.48).” This shows that blacks are more reckless when buying drugs since it seems they’re more likely to buy it from someone they don’t know and use it outdoors where they can be caught, especially since these outdoor areas have higher crime rates where there is more police presence and blacks use drugs in areas with higher crime rates (Lagan 1995). All this explains why blacks are more likely to go to jail for drugs.

  • Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation
    • Police militarization does not lead to a decrease in crimes committed or officer injuries, may actually increase both.
    • Police militarization (including the adoption of SWAT teams) decreases public trust in police, which may contribute to increases in crime.
    • Militarized police are disproportionately deployed in African American communities, even when accounting for crime rates.

–add later–

  • https://www.acludc.org/sites/default/files/2020_06_15_aclu_stops_report_final.pdf
    • This ACLU report reviews 5 months’ of data from DC police stops & searches by race and outcome.
    • The black population of DC is 25% greater than the white population, but black people were 410% more likely to be stopped by the police than white people
    • This disparity increases to 1465% for stops which led to no warning, ticket or arrest and 3695% for searches which led to no warning, ticket or arrest.
    • This data indicates the disproportionate stopping and searching of blacks in the Dc area extended massively beyond any disproportionate rate of criminality.
  • The Problem of Infra-marginality in Outcome Tests for Discrimination
    • Analysis of 4.5 million traffic stops in North Carolina shows blacks and latinos were more likely to be searched than whites (5.4 percent, 4.1 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively).
    • Despite this, searches of white motorists were the most likely to reveal contraband (32% of whites, 29% of blacks, 19% of latinos).

Before we continue, Vaush is correct to argue that blacks are stopped and searched more often than whites. This finding has been replicated in many locations across America, but there are few problems with this. To determine if racial bias may be present, researchers use a benchmark based on population demographics. For this benchmark, researchers compare the racial distribution for x to their groups total population. For example, say that in California 45% of people arrested for drugs are black but blacks are only 12% of the total California population. Since the racial distribution for drug arrests among blacks is higher than their total population, then this is evidence of racial bias since the two distributions do not align. Readers with an IQ of 90 can see how wrong this. First of all, we should not expect racial distributions to align for most stuff; second of all, blaming this disparity on racism doesn’t work unless it can be explained by racism with evidence — not just with the existence of a disparity. The null-hypothesis should not be that racism is the cause of the disparity, because if this is so then any racial gap is a product of sin rather than of differences.

Let’s take another example that relates to the topic at hand. Say that on the 105 freeway in Los Angeles 54% of drivers pulled over and searched are black, but blacks are only 23% of the Los Angeles population. Using the benchmark method used by many social scientists, they find that racism is responsible for this disparity since the two racial distributions (% black drivers stopped and their population % in L.A.) do not align and thus they must reflect racial bias. Instead of the social scientists seeing if racial differences in driving behavior can explain this disparity, they just argue that it’s because of racism because of their benchmark used. Because of this issue with this benchmark, it’s not exactly a good benchmark (see Ridgeway and MacDonald 2010 for more). Another benchmark used is the hit rate benchmark.

According to this benchmark, blacks being stopped and searched more is not a result of racial bias if their stop rates reflect their successful hit rates. If their stop rates and hit rates do not align — or rather their stop rate is higher than their hit race — then racial bias does seem to play a role. To repeat what I’ll say in the next following sections, hit rates do not matter. Say you’re a campus officer and there are people who wear blue backpacks and black backpacks. While patrolling the campus, you notice that those who wear black backpacks are more likely to commit campus violations/ show suspicious behavior. Due to this, you stop them more often and search them — but it turns out that those who wear blue backpacks are more likely to have contraband. Simply knowing their backpack color doesn’t help you see who to stop and search, but behavior and violations do. The final sentence will make sense in the following sections, but this will be repeated again near the end.

Overall, the evidence does suggest that non-white drivers are more likely to be stopped than white drivers. This is not an area of dispute, but the reasons for this disparity are. Regardless, let’s continue onto what the evidence for traffic stops by race tell us. Explanations for this disparity won’t be given in this section since this is more of a literature review, but it will be given in the next section.

Reviewing 5 months of data, the ACLU (2020) looked at D.C. police stops and searches by race. Black people made up 46.5% of the D.C. population but made up 72.0% of stops overall, 86.1% of stops that led to no warning or ticket, and 91.1% of searches that led to no warning or ticket. Although the ACLU does say that they really can’t say that this disparity is because of racism, they do say that it can be because of racism because (1) most black stops are unjustified; (2) blacks are more likely to be stopped in white areas and; (3) blacks are more likely to be searched than whites despite whites being found with contraband more.

Using a population benchmark, a California study by Durali et al. (2020) found that despite being 6.3% of the population according to ACS data, 13.4% of blacks were stopped by police. According to their findings, “a higher percentage of Black individuals were stopped for reasonable suspicion than any other racial identity group”:

Furthermore, blacks were searched more often despite whites yielding contraband at a higher rate than blacks. Blacks were also more likely to be stopped and arrested in the morning than at night, something called the “veil of darkness (VOD)” — when one’s race is masked at night. According to the VOD logic, this supports the hypothesis of racial bias since black drivers are less likely to be stopped at night when one’s race is harder to make out.

Looking at the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), Berjarano (2001) remarked that blacks only make up 8% of the San Diego population but 12% of all those stopped, and 14% of those stopped for equipment violations. Similarly, Zingraff et al. (2008) found that although blacks make up only 19.6% of licensed drivers in North Carolina, 22.9% of traffic tickets were issued to blacks. In Florida, blacks made up 22% of all seat belt citations but only 13.5% of the Florida’s drivers (ACLU 2016). These citation differences could not be explained by seat belt compliance since the difference in seat belt compliance between blacks and whites was not large enough to begin with (91.5% v. 85.8%). Similar results have been found in Maryland and Illinois (Harris 1999ACLU 2014), with whites being more likely to be found with contraband in Maryland. One of the more popular studies comes from Lamberth (2010) in New Jersey. Despite blacks making up only 13.5% of drivers on the road, they made up 42% of those stopped by police.

In a more recent study looking at over 100 million traffic stops across America, Pierson et al. (2020) found that blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be stopped at higher rates than whites, more likely to be searched despite whites having more contraband, and blacks are less likely to be stopped at night than in the morning. This study, though, did not use a population benchmark and instead used the threshold test (Simoiu, Corbett-Davies, and Goel 2017). This test uses the rate at which searches occur and their success rate (i.e. they find contraband), with them finding that the bar to search non-whites is lower.

Looking at national data, Persico and Todd (2006) looked at 15 studies and looked at their hit rates, with Last (2019) making their table clearer and adding a difference(s) section:


As can be seen, there are regional differences in hit rates by race. Overall, whites have a higher hit rate (i.e. being found to have more contraband) than blacks, with the difference being 2.4).

Based on all this evidence, some would conclude that this disparity is due to racial bias in the criminal justice system. Indeed, this has been the position taken in some of the studies cited above, and in the media with them calling blacks being stopped and searched more than whites “driving while black” (e.g. LaFraniere and Lehren 2015Brown 2019Lartey 2018Gold 2016). Good research does not just leave it here, it attempts to explain the findings instead of blaming it on a ghost (racism). Although blacks are more likely to be stopped and searched than white drivers, the racism hypothesis could be argued with racial differences in driving behavior.

Looking at the National Survey of the Use of Booster seats, we find racial differences in seat belt usage (Pickreall and Jianqiang 2009). These differences are larger between the ages of 13-15, and smaller in older age groups. Although we have these differences, they are not large enough to explain racial differences in driving stops — except at a younger age.

If non-whites live in areas where police aggressively enforce seat belt violations, then blacks will be more likely to be stopped.

While there seems to be very little data looking at racial differences in driving violations, the best evidence comes from criminologist Heather MacDonald. In the context of New Jersey and North Carolina, MacDonald (2016) notes:

“Though most criminologists are terrified of studying the matter, the research that has been done, in New Jersey and North Carolina, found that black drivers speed disproportionately. On the New Jersey turnpike, for example, black drivers studied in 2001 sped at twice the rate of white drivers (with speeding defined as traveling at 15 mph or more above the posted limit) and traveled at the most reckless levels of speed even more disproportionately.”

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any more studies like this and it seems that racial differences in speeding aren’t generalizable besides in North Carolina and New Jersey. The BJS notes that whites are more likely to speed (Smith and Durose 2006), so it’s possible that races get stopped for different reasons. Indeed, races give different reasons as to why they’re stopped:

In Ingraham (2014)

Another reason as to why blacks are more likely to be stopped is because they’re more likely to have a warrant out for their arrest and have unpaid tickets (Dolan 2016). A strong reason to assume that racial bias does not play a role in driving stops and searches is racial differences in suspicious behavior. If certain groups are more likely to display suspicious behavior, then cops will be more likely to stop and search them. According to the National Institute of Justice:

In Savannah, Ga., trained observers accompanied police officers on 132 tours and focused on officers’ decision-making and discretion prior to a traffic stop. Officers were questioned every time a person aroused their suspicions. Of those who evoked suspicion, 74 percent were male and 71 percent were minorities. Suspicious behavior, a traffic offense, “looking nervous” or similar behavior accounted for 66 percent of the officers’ reactions; 18 percent were the result of information they had received to be on the lookout for a suspect; 10 percent because someone was where he or she would not be expected to be; and 6 percent because of the person’s appearance. Officers stopped individuals under suspicion 59 percent of the time, but the suspect’s race did not affect the outcome of the stop. The authors concluded that the results did not support the perception that a high level of discrimination occurs prior to a traffic stop.

Citing Geoffrey et al. (2009)

Another interesting piece of data comes from Schell et al. (2007). Looking at Cincinnati, blacks had longer stops and higher search rates than white drivers. After controlling for time, place, and context of the stops, there were no differences on stop and search rates. If these same variables were taken into account for the previous section, then it’s highly likely that they wouldn’t find racial differences in stops and searches. Ridgeway and MacDonald (2010) note that “A comparison of the racial distribution of observed traffic violators to actual police traffic stops in the same areas suggested little evidence of racial bias in stop decisions.” What about the ACLU’s findings that blacks were more likely to be ticketed and whites were more likely to be given a warning? After controlling for different variables, Smith and Petrocelli (2001) note that “minority drivers were more likely to be warned, whereas Whites were more likely to be ticketed or arrested.”

One of the more important things that should be responded to is the VOD findings. To give a quick refresher, the VOD refers to the fact that blacks are more likely to be stopped in the morning than at night when the driver’s race is harder to see. The original “sunset” and ”veil of darkness” study referenced in the Stanford paper study DOES mention work variances (i.e. differences by race that could lead to more blacks stopped by police in the day), which is a detail completely omitted in Stanford study. As the original veil of darkness study says,

“For a number of reasons, the assumption of constant relative risk is restrictive. One reason for this is that temporal travel patterns may vary by race due to differences in hours of work. If so, then the race distribution of the at-risk population may vary by time of day. Racial differences in police exposure or driving behavior could also cause the relative risks to vary.”

They also say that

“In the case of the Oakland data, our approach yields little evidence of racial profiling, and our sensitivity analysis suggests that the departures from our maintained assumptions would have to be substantial to overturn our conclusions”

Grogger and Ridgeway (2006)

It’s highly possible that the authors of the Stanford paper just made an assumption on what their data could mean rather than testing this hypothesis. Even the original VOD study found no racial bias and said that blacks being more likely to be stopped in the morning than at night can reflect relative risks. It should also be noted that another factor that could be causing blacks to think that them being stopped by a cop is due to racial bias is the fact that when stopped by an officer of a different race, they think that the stop was not legitimate when compared to when stopped by an officer of the same race (Langton and Durose 2013).

All these variables can lead to blacks being stopped more and being searched more, especially when there are racial differences in suspicious behavior when driving. If one exhibits odd behavior and gets stopped by an officer, it’ll increase their chances of also being searched. Bringing up hit race by race does not matter. Although whites are more likely to have contraband, police just can’t stop every white person. They have to stop someone who looks suspicious or who is committing traffic violations. To repeat myself, say you’re a campus officer and there are people who wear blue backpacks and black backpacks. While patrolling the campus, you notice that those who wear black backpacks are more likely to commit campus violations/ show suspicious behavior. Due to this, you stop them more often and search them — but it turns out that those who wear blue backpacks are more likely to have contraband. Simply knowing their backpack color doesn’t help you see who to stop and search, but behavior and violations do.

In conclusion, racial differences in driving violations and behavior explains why blacks are more likely to be stopped and searched, even though whites are more likely to have contraband on them. Contrary to media and political narratives, “driving while black” is a result of racial differences than of racial bias. This line of argument, while popular, does not make a good argument as to why blacks are stopped and searched more often than whites.

Biases by Judges, Juries & Prosecutors

  • Demographic Differences in Sentencing: An Update to the 2012 Booker Report
    • Extensive multivariate regression analysis indicates black male offenders receive 19.1% longer federal sentences than similarly-situated white male offenders (white male offenders with similar past offenses, socioeconomic background, etc.)
    • This disparity seems to stem mostly from black males being 21.2% less likely to receive non-government sponsored downward departures or variances.
      • Non-government sponsored departures and variances refer to deviations from standard sentencing guidelines due to judicial discretion.
    • Black males who do receive non government-sponsored departures and variations still serve 16.8% longer sentences than white males on average.
    • In contrast, when sentencing length follows standard guidelines, that disparity is only 7.9%, and a substantial assistance departure for both groups nullifies that disparity.
    • IN SUMMARY – much of the sentencing disparity between similarly situated black males and white males comes down to judicial discretion to deviate from standard sentencing guidelines.
    • BONUS – regression analysis suggests violence in a criminal’s history does NOT explain sentencing disparities between black males and similarly situated white males – the effect of that factor seems to be statistically insignificant.
  • https://sci-hub.tw/https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jels.12077
    • A study of first-time felons in Georgia found black men received sentences of on average 270 days longer than similarly-situated white males.
    • However, when black males were differentiated by skin tone, it was found light-skinned black men saw virtually no disparity in their sentencing while dark-skinned black men actually saw a disparity of around 400 days in prison.

This is true, when controlling for legal and social variables blacks still receive longer sentences than whites for the same crime. Contrary to this, though, controlling for past criminal record and verbal IQ make the sentencing gap between blacks and whites go away. Beaver et al. (2013): “Table 5 presents the results of the models and reveals that race was not significantly associated with sentence length in the baseline model. After controlling for the effects of self-reported lifetime violence and verbal IQ, the effect of race on sentence length remained non-significant”:

Since controlling for IQ makes the gap go away, this brings into question why legal and social variables don’t close the racial sentencing gap but IQ does. As for the Georgia study, their results can still be explained by IQ differences — especially since lighter skin blacks have a higher IQ than darker skin blacks (see Shuey 1966).

  • Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Sentences 
    • Examination of federal data indicates Black Americans spend about 10% more time in prison when compared to comparable Whites who commit the same crimes.
    • Additionally, Black arrestees are 75% more likely to be charged with a crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence.
    • Prosecutors contribute massively to this undeniable racial bias.???

The issue of blacks spending more time in prison has already been discussed above, but what about mandatory minimums?  When mandatory minimum laws are in place, the black-white gap in sentencing is smaller (although, the gap itself is a result of IQ, as discussed above). The black-white gap may widen or remain persistent due to the elimination of rigid sentencing guidelines (mandatory minimums), thus sentences are lower for BOTH blacks and whites compared to decades past. It seems mandatory minimums kept sentencing racially “fair” in some respects (Pryor et al. 2002). It’s highly possible that blacks commit more crimes that carry mandatory minimums, especially given the fact that blacks commit more crimes than whites — as noted somewhere else in this doc response.

  • Report on Jury Selection Study
    • Between 1990 and 2010, state prosecutors struck about 53% of black people eligible for juries in criminal cases, as opposed to 26% of white people. The study’s authors testified the odds of this taking place in a race-neutral context were around 1 in 10 trillion.
    • After accounting for factors prosecutors select for which tend to correlate with race, black people were still struck twice as often.
    • North Carolina’s state legislator had previously passed a law stating death penalty defendants who could demonstrate racial bias in their jury selection could have their sentences changed to life without parole. The legislature later repealed that law.

According to Schmiddit (2020), “interestingly, another study on jury selection in North Carolina found that defense attorneys strike potential white jurors far more often than potential black jurors, excluding “22 percent of the available white jurors versus 10 percent of the available black jurors.” It appears that both races experience some form of racial bias in jury selection, with the race that experiences the bias depending on whether a state prosecutor or defense attorney is selecting the jurors.” If both groups are affected, can this really be due to systemic racism?

  • Different Shades of Bias: Skin Tone, Implicit Racial Bias, and Judgments of Ambiguous Evidence
    • In this study, two groups of mock jurors were given a collection of race-neutral evidence from an armed robbery, with one group’s alleged perpetrator being shown to be light-skinned and the other dark-skinned.
    • Jurors were significantly more likely to evaluate ambiguous, race-neutral evidence against the dark-skinned suspect as incriminating and more likely to find the dark-skinned suspect guilty.

As Daniel Schmiddit noted on his article, “There are significant limitations to this study, however. For one, the authors note that the study’s population — 66 students at the University of Hawaii acting as mock jurors — is not indicative of jury members serving under legal obligation. Additionally, the authors cited a 2003 comprehensive review of a variety of studies involving mock juries that concluded that “no consensus has been reached regarding the influence of a defendant’s race on White mock jurors.” Interestingly, the 2003 report found that “Black mock jurors seem to be influenced by a defendant’s race regardless of the salience of racial issues at trial,” while white jurors appear to be less influenced” (Schmiddit 2020).

Additionally, other studies have revealed less bias among white mock jurors. Mitchell et al. (2005) analyzed data from 34 studies in which people acted as jurors and voted on whether a given defendant was guilty. It was found that whites have nearly no bias in such decisions while the black people exhibit an in-group bias that is 15 times larger than the minuscule bias seen among whites. Devine and Caughlin (2014) conducted a meta-analysis and found that white jurors had no bias against black defendants, but did have a moderate bias against hispanic defendants. Black jurors, though, showed a pro-black or anti-white bias.

  • https://bja.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh186/files/media/document/PleaBargainingResearchSummary.pdf
    • Government aggregate of data on plea and charge bargaining.
    • “Studies that assess the effects of race find that blacks are less likely to receive a reduced charge compared with whites.”
    • “Studies have generally found a relationship between race and whether or not a defendant receives a reduced charge.”
    • “The majority of research on race and sentencing outcomes shows that blacks are less likely than whites to receive reduced pleas.“
    • In short, collected data strongly indicates a racial bias against blacks with regards to sentencing and plea bargains.

This study needs to control for more variables rather than just two.

The issue of sentencing is already noted above, so I will move onto bails and pleas. As Schmidt noted,

A 2011 research summary from the Bureau of Justice Assistance concluded that “studies have generally found a relationship between race and whether or not a defendant receives a reduced charge,” citing two studies. When looking at the issue more closely, the validity of racial bias has doubt cast upon it:

A 2017 study on the same topic found the issue to be far more complex than just a simple racial disparity. When analyzing just the race of defendants to determine the odds of receiving a charge reduction due to pleading guilty, the study found: “Pleading guilty increases the probability of a charge reduction by 50.1% for blacks, as opposed to 55.8% for whites … Blacks generally have slightly lower offense seriousness scores, more extensive prior records, and are detained at higher rates—all factors that decrease the likelihood of a charge reduction. This may partially explain the lower value blacks are getting for their plea.”

When both the race and gender of defendants were analyzed, however, the study yielded fascinating results: “Pleading guilty increases the probability of a charge reduction by 46.1% for black males, compared to 58.1% for black females, 53.9% for white males, and 55.9% for white females.”

Surprisingly, black females were found to benefit most from pleading guilty, a phenomenon that surely would not occur in a racist criminal justice system. Moreover, there is a larger disparity between black males and black females than black males and white males, potentially providing validity to the claim that gender is a more influential characteristic than race in America’s criminal justice system. If the criminal justice system were racist, racial disparities would be present regardless of gender.

When it comes to probation claim, the study cited also notes limitations — something Vaush did not mention:

Data on some key factors likely related to revocations were not available for analysis. In no site was the data sufficiently populated regarding violation type, including whether violations were related to new crimes or technical violations of probation conditions. This is a very substantial limitation, as the type of violation is strongly related to the likelihood of revocation.

We also did not have the data necessary to parse out the contributions of different decision points and actors to the disparity. Probation revocations are a product of probationer conduct, probation officer discretion, judicial discretion, and supervision conditions, making these four factors important determinants of which probationers experience a revocation. Other processes, such as law enforcement practices (which could detect more or less probationer misconduct) or policies and statutes (which could limit discretion in responding to probation violations), also play a role in many jurisdictions.

Given these limitations, conclusions regarding the drivers of observed disparities in probation revocations are provisional and constrained by the data available for this study

Furthermore, we should not assume that probation officers are racially biased, especially when given the fact that probation officers do not show racial bias towards one particular race (see Bechtold et al. 2015).

Biases in Death Penalty Sentencing

  • https://files.deathpenaltyinfo.org/legacy/documents/WashRaceStudy2014.pdf
    • Analysis of 33 years of data from Washington State to determine which characteristics best predict the decision to implement a death sentence.
    • Black defendants are 4.5 times as likely to receive a death sentence as similarly-situated whites.
    • Other factors (presence of aggravating circumstances, involvement of sex crimes, hostage-taking, etc.) explain only a small fraction of the disparity in prosecutors’ and juries’ decision to invoke the death penalty against black defendents.
    • Race was by far the most influential statistical factor.

This study found that blacks killers of white victims are more likely to get the death penalty than white killers of black victims, but Katz (1989) noted that the discrepancy vanishes altogether when further controls are imposed (Statement to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Concerning the Relationship between Race and the Death Penalty: page 999). Race was not a significant variable in someone getting the death penalty since the p-value was p<0.221. Something being “influential” does not mean it’s statistically significant. % black was the only racial variable that was statically significant, but this could just mean that blacker areas are more likely to have criminals that get the death penalty. Some studies found no bias in death penalty decisions by race.

Klein and Rolph (1991) note that  “After accounting for some of the many factors that may influence penalty decisions, neither race of the defendant nor race of the victim appreciably improved prediction of who was sentenced to death.” Baime (in Systemic Proportionality Review Project: 2001-2002 Term): “[W]e state our conclusions: (1) there is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases advance to penalty trial; (2) there is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases result in imposition of the death penalty.” Finally, Corzine, Codey, and Roberts (2007) report that “The available data do not support a finding of invidious racial bias in the application of the death penalty in New Jersey.”

Considering most crime in the U.S. is committed by blacks (Beaver, Ellis, and Wright 2009), we should expect death penalty sentences by race to reflect this.

Going back to the study in question, race was not statistically significant. In statistics, significance means the chances something wasn’t due to chance — not the colloquial definition of being worthy of attention. In this case, race was not statistically significant in this analysis.

  • https://www.uky.edu/AS/PoliSci/Peffley/pdf/Eberhardt.2006.Psych%20Sci.Looking%20Deathworthy.pdf
    • Analysis of the relationship between racial stereotyping and death sentence convictions.
    • Black defendants who possessed darker skin and more “stereotypically black” features were twice as likely to be given the death penalty when accused of murdering a white person, as compared to lighter-skinned blacks with less “stereotypically black” features.
    • This disparity disappears completely when the murder victim is black.

Refer to the first response in this section that discusses racial bias and white victims

Since this claim has already been discussed in Claim #1 for this section, race of victim will be discussed. In general, there is no race-of-victim bias: Walsh and Hatch (2017):  “[We] fail to find any race-of-victim bias”;  Katz (1989): noted that the discrepancy vanishes altogether when further controls are imposed; Bacon et al. (2003) echoed this finding multiple times: “The race of the victim effect does not hold up, however, at the decision of the state’s attorney to advance a case to penalty trial and at the decision of the judge or jury to impose a death sentence given that a penalty trial has occurred” (p. 27); “The race of the victim does not appear to matter when the decision is to advance a case to the penalty phase or to sentence a defendant to death after a penalty phase hearing” (page 29); “Among the subset of cases where the case actually does reach a penalty trial, the victim’s race does not have a significant impact on the imposition of a death sentence” (page 35); “There is no race of the offender / victim effect at either the decision to advance a case to penalty hearing or the decision to sentence a defendant to death given a penalty hearing” (page 30).

Implicit Bias

    • Photos of capital inmates shown to entry-level criminal justice students for them to evaluate the trustworthiness of the faces.
    • Students rated pictures of light-skinned inmates as more trustworthy when they preceded pictures of dark-skinned inmates.
    • Most study participants (79.9%) were white, but the study predicted that this wasn’t a major factor – “When controlling for race, no statistically significant result was found. This suggests that each race, White and non-White, were consistent in their rating outcomes. Prior research has found similar results, where Whites and light-skinned Blacks are likely to share similar attitudes towards darker-skinned Blacks”

The sample for this study was not representative as the sample came from undergraduates from a single university. Per the study, “Undergraduate students at the University of Alabama in the Criminal Justice Department were used to analyze the photographs of capital case defendants.” The only time dark-skinned defendants were rated as less trustworthy was when they came after a light-skinned defendant, and that’s the only time. It’s unknown why this was the case, but Cohen’s d was large (d=0.8). Regardless, the limited sample restricted to a single university does not allow us to make generalizations. Furthermore, Zigerell (2018) meta-analyzed 17 studies and found that white people exhibited a statistically insignificant tendency to favor black people while black people exhibited a pro black bias that was larger and statistically significant.

  • Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds
    • Students and police officers participated in tests to determine levels of racial bias and perception of innocence.
    • Black boys as young as 10 are more likely to be considered criminal or untrustworthy, and more likely to face police violence.
    • Police officers were tested on dehumanization of blacks by comparing people of different races to animal groups. Police who engaged in higher levels of dehumanization were more likely to use violence against black children.

On the topic of perceiving blacks as older, this can be attributed to racial differences in physical maturation (blacks mature faster than whites). According to Winegerd et al. (1973), “The white-black differences were great enough to provide the basis for an effective discriminant function. The total variation in maturity within the hand (the “disharmony” or “imbalance”) differs in blacks from such variation in the other races.” Moreover, according to Rushton (2000), blacks reach sexual maturity sooner than whites, who in turn mature sooner than Asians. This  is true for things like age at first menstruation, first sexual experience, and first pregnancy. 

One study of over 17,000 American girls in the 1997 issue of Pediatrics found that puberty begins a year earlier for Black girls than for White girls. By age eight, 48% of the Black girls (but only 15% of the White girls) had some breast development, pubic hair, or both. For Whites this did not happen until ten years. The age when girls began to menstruate was between 11 and 12 for Black girls. White girls began a year later.  Sexual maturity in boys also differs by race. By age 11, 60% of Black boys have reached the stage of puberty marked by fast penis growth. Two percent have already had sex. White boys tend not to reach this stage for another 1.5 years. Orientals lag one to two years  behind Whites in both sexual development and the start of sexual Interest.

Young blacks are also more likely to be criminal than whites. For instance, one report from the US Department of Education found that Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white preschoolers, and black students are 2.3 times more likely than white students to be referred to law enforcement or arrested as a result of a school incident. Another report by the Civil Rights Data Collection remarked that black girls account for 20% of all female preschoolers and 54% of female preschoolers who are suspended more than once. Black preschool children are 3.6x more likely to be suspended than whites. This can not be pinned onto racial bias! Wright et al. (2014) remarked that the black-white suspension gap was completely accounted for by controlling for past behavioral problems suggesting that the gap is not due to racial bias. Skiba et al. (2002) found the racial gap in suspension rates persisted after SES was controlled for, and found that whites and blacks had the same chance of being suspended once they were sent to the office. This too suggests that these disparities are not due to bias. Skiba et al. note that “African-American students are referred to the office for infractions that are more subjective in interpretation”, but black behavior in classrooms are not tame. Kochman (1983) vividly describes race differences in attitude toward various rule governed social interactions. In formal negotiations, he finds, whites are more interested in following “the rules of negotiating” and “the negotiating procedure,” whereas blacks are more driven by their emotions and see conformity to these rules as defeat (37–42). In turn-taking situations such as the classroom, “the white classroom rule is to raise your hand, be recognized by the instructor, and take a turn in the order in which you are recognized.… The black rule, on the other hand, is to come in when you can.… Within the black conception, the decision to enter the debate and assert oneself is self-determined, regulated entirely by individuals’ own assessment of what they have to say ” (24–28).

Marcus (2007) found that “Blacks showed from 13% to 78% greater involvement than Whites for all forms of aggressive and violent behavior, whereas for feeling unsafe at, or to or from, school showed 123% more Blacks felt unsafe than Whites. Racial-ethnic differences of this magnitude have been reported in other national surveys that were roughly similar.” Johnston et al. (2008) noted that based on various questionnaires, blacks self-reported being about 10 percent more violent than whites. Hartup (1974) had a group of observers rate children on their aggression levels. Particularly in instrumental aggression, older black children were more aggressive than older white children. There was likely a difference in hostile aggression as well, but it was not detailed. There was a Race x Age interaction – the differences between whites and blacks were small at a younger age and grew as the groups were older. Mayberry and Espelage (2005) found that the aggression differences between blacks and whites are larger in reactive aggression (the hostile component). If we average the means and SDs for black females and males and white females and males, and we use the white avg. SD (which is very similar to the black avg. SD), then we find black people are 0.5833 white SDs higher in reactive aggression than whites are. This is certainly large enough to be consequential. These results can not be pinned onto racial bias by teachers via their student assessments (Chang and Sue 2003).

In conclusion, cops are right to think that younger blacks are more likely to be criminal. This study also made use of IAT tests, tests which lack construct validity due to their low threshold.

  • Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability
    • Results from three separate studies on perception and racial bias show people have a tendency to perceive black men as larger and more threatening than similarly sized white men.
    • Participants also believed the black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed.

According to Johnson and Wilson (2019), stereotypes based on physical attributes are accurate. Even then, blacks are more threatening, are more likely to cause harm, and are more violent — as noted up above.

One thought on “A Response to Vaush’s Ultimate Research Document: Racism in the Criminal Justice System

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