Race and Crime: Geographies of Injustice / Edition 1

Race and Crime: Geographies of Injustice / Edition 1

Pub. Date:
University of California Press
Pub. Date:
University of California Press
Race and Crime: Geographies of Injustice / Edition 1

Race and Crime: Geographies of Injustice / Edition 1

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Criminal justice practices such as policing and imprisonment are integral to the creation of racialized experiences in U.S. society. Race as an important category of difference, however, did not arise here with the criminal justice system but rather with the advent of European colonial conquest and the birth of the U.S. racial state. Race and Crime examines how race became a defining feature of the system and why mass incarceration emerged as a new racial management strategy. This book reviews the history of race and criminology and explores the impact of racist colonial legacies on the organization of criminal justice institutions. Using a macrostructural perspective, students will learn to contextualize issues of race, crime, and criminal justice.
Topics include:
  • How “coloniality” explains the practices that reproduce racial hierarchies
  • The birth of social science and social programs from the legacies of racial science
  • The defining role of geography and geographical conquest in the continuation of mass incarceration
  • The emergence of the logics of crime control, the War on Drugs, the redefinition of federal law enforcement, and the reallocation of state resources toward prison building, policing, and incarceration
  • How policing, courts, and punishment perpetuate the colonial order through their institutional structures and policies
Race and Crime will help students understand how everyday practices of punishment and surveillance are employed in and through the police, courts, and community to create and shape the geographies of injustice in the United States today.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520294189
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 440
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Brown is Professor of Criminal Justice Studies in the School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at San Francisco State University. 
George Barganier is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Studies in the School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at San Francisco State University.  

Read an Excerpt


Race, Crime, and Justice: Definitions and Context


* Explain what mass incarceration is and how it impacts race in the United States today.

* Summarize the connection between racialized mass incarceration and strides toward racial justice in the United States.

* Define terms key to understanding race, crime, and justice in the United States.

* Demonstrate how race and crime are socially constructed.


* mass incarceration

* coloniality

* sovereign force

* state power

* knowledge production

* premature death

* social construction

* white supremacy

White nationalist protesters in the United States marched through the streets with torches, wantonly inflicting violence and even death when a member charged the group. As they marched, they chanted, "Blood and Soil," a Nazi slogan. One protester plowed into a group of counterprotesters, hurting at least twenty people and killing one. Racial taunts, shoving, and fighting led the governor to declare a state of emergency and the National Guard to descend upon the city. The president of the country refused to condemn the violence and instead noted that "bad dudes" on "both sides" were to blame for the violence. He further sided with the protesters, declaring monuments to white supremacy "beautiful" and part of the "history and culture" of the United States. No, this is not sometime in the 1800s or even the 1960s but August 2017, when white nationalists amassed to protest the removal of a statue that commemorated the slaveholding southern United States in Charlottesville, North Carolina.

You might ask why we would open a book titled Race and Crime with a discussion of white nationalist violence and its resurgence in the United States. Seventy years ago, though, this question might not have been asked. One of the first "wars on crime" in the 1940s sought not to fight drugs or gangs, as we often declare today, but to define crime as white racial violence and the criminal justice system as the responsible state institution for protecting the nation against these acts (Murakawa 2014). For reformers in the 1940s, the events in Charlottesville would have had everything to do with race and crime.

The events in Charlottesville themselves, though, might have seemed odd to reformers in the post-WWII era. At the end of the 1940s, the United States was embarking on an era where the traditional structures of race-based exclusion — such as explicit racial segregation in housing and schools — would be eroded and ultimately overturned. Over the next two decades, Supreme Court decisions would mandate protections for those most disenfranchised, especially in the criminal court, by providing state-funded attorneys for poor people and requiring Fourth Amendment protections against the actions of local (not just federal) police. And in 1964, the nation would pass the Civil Rights Act, which explicitly prohibited racial discrimination. This time would be remembered as a period when the civil rights movement made extraordinary inroads in exposing and changing the systems of white supremacy that marked the pre–civil rights era. For the reformers in the 1940s seeking to define the criminal justice system as the foremost institution in the fight against racial hatred and violence, the events in 2017 in Charlottesville would not have seemed likely.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act, affirmative action remedies in the 1970s and 1980s, and the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, many today were even poised to declare the ascendance of the "postracial" moment in the United States. The New York Times headline the day after the election proclaimed "Obama Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls." Time magazine asserted that his election signaled that "the economy is trumping race" and that "worried white voters [were] turning toward Obama."

Yet, only a little over eight years separate the events in Charlottesville from the election of Obama. Arguably, Obama's election was generations in coming — starting with the first moments of the civil rights movement (and likely earlier). Could something with that amount of historical significance really change in just eight short years? Could the events of today really be such a backlash to Obama's election that the prior half century of racial justice work would be obliterated? Could we really have gone so quickly from a postracial future to the resurgence of a violent, white supremacist past? Or is something else going on?

We argue that something else is going on, and this something else is found within the criminal justice system. By examining the institutions of criminal justice, we reveal how and why the criminal justice system emerged as the paramount institution of racial governance in the United States. We also explore why this happened at a time when reformers might not have expected it, and when many were primed to declare the past few decades as the ascendance of a postracial future.


Let's consider a critical transformation in the criminal justice system that happened at the same time as the postracial future was being built. For an entire century prior to the civil rights movement, the rate of incarceration was nearly constant (Cahalan 1986). And while black and brown communities were certainly recipients of undue criminal justice attention, policing, and violent force, whites routinely made up the majority of people in prison (Cahalan 1986; Johnson, Dobrzanska, and Palla 2005). With this historical background, we might have expected the criminal justice system to be the exemplar institution of the postracial era, emerging out of the civil rights moment in the 1960s as a model of racial equality, justice, and fairness. Something else happened, though.

Mass Incarceration

That something else is what is often called mass incarceration. Mass incarceration is defined by David Garland (2001, 1) as "a rate of imprisonment ... that is markedly above the historical and comparative norm" for a given society. With mass incarceration, imprisonment "ceases to be the incarceration of individual offenders and becomes the systematic imprisonment of whole groups of the population."

Today, 25 percent of the world's total prisoners are held in the United States, though it has just 5 percent of the global population (Sentencing Project 2015). Its rate of incarceration is far above any comparable nation, with almost 700 people incarcerated per 100,000 residents (see figure 1.1). The next highest rate among OECD countries is Chile's 256 per 100,000. (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, begun by the United States, Canada, and European countries in the 1960s, includes thirty-five nations.) Among all the countries in the world, the United States remains the leader, with Rwanda coming in second with 492 people incarcerated per 100,000 (Sentencing Project 2015). Indeed, the United States incarcerates more people than the top thirty-five European countries combined! And the United States' incarceration rate does not include the 360,000 people incarcerated in immigrant detention facilities in 2016 (Detention Watch Network 2018).

This level of incarceration is unprecedented compared not only to other countries but also in the history of incarceration in the United States. Figure 1.2 shows the rate of incarceration, or how many people are incarcerated relative to the total population, in this case, per 100,000 people. Just like the total number of people incarcerated, the rate of incarceration also substantially increased and demonstrated that even with population increases, incarceration in the 1980s was both historically unprecedented and drastic. Between 1900 (when reliable national record keeping began) and the 1970s, the rate of incarceration including jails was also relatively constant, averaging around 100 per 100,000. Yet, after the 1970s, this rose to a global high of 755 per 100,000 in 2008 (the peak) and about 693 per 100,000 today.

The current U.S. rates of incarceration are certainly unprecedented, unparalleled, and anomalous. Yet measures of incarceration do not reveal the entire story. As incarceration rates rose, so did probation and parole. Today, over 6 million people are under some sort of criminal justice supervision — a number that shows just how widespread and entrenched the mass incarceration complex is in U.S. society.

Race and Mass Incarceration

The term mass incarceration suggests a widespread application, yet mass incarceration is not widely applied, and it does not apply to an amorphous, nonracialized conception of society. In a country that is over 77 percent white, more than 60 percent of people in jail and prison are persons of color. In 2013, whites made up just 34.3 percent of the prison population, while black people made up 37.4 percent and Latinxs 22.3 percent (Sentencing Project 2015). The chance of incarceration for a black person is six times that of a white person, and Latinxs are 2.3 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites (Sentencing Project 2015).

At the height of mass incarceration, among every 100,000 residents, almost 2,300 black people were incarcerated and almost 1,100 Latinxs, compared to just over 320 whites. In 2016, 274 whites per 100,000 were incarcerated, compared to almost six times more blacks at 1,608, and over three times as many Latinxs at 856 per 100,000 (see figure 1.3). Among every 100,000 male U.S. residents, 2,724 black men are incarcerated, 1,091 Latino men, and just 465 white men. For white women, just 53 in every 100,000 are incarcerated, compared to 64 in 100,000 Latinas, and 109 in 100,000 black women. Today, one in three black people and one in seven Latinxs are under some sort of criminal justice supervision, but only one in twenty-three whites! Indeed, in some cities, such as Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Washington DC, the rate of criminal justice supervision for black men is one in two (Mauer 2006). And this increase in incarceration, probation, and parole for black people and Latinxs happened at a time when the postracial moment was seemingly building in other areas of the country.

Incarceration and the (Racialized) Life Experience

There is no doubt that the management of crime today plays a significant, if not defining, role in creating the racial experience (Cole 2000). The most commonly cited incarceration statistics provide just a glimpse of one aspect of the carceral complex that is directed at black and brown communities (Mauer 2006). It fails to include the effects of living in a hyperpoliced community or among unregulated criminal markets or under a general pattern of suspicion, distrust, and extraordinary attention — not just violence — directed at one's community (Chesney-Lind and Mauer 2003; Travis and Waul 2003).

Bird's-eye views of incarceration statistics fail to convey how incarceration has become a normal part of the life course for some groups (Petit and Western 2004). For example, while white men have a one-in-seventeen chance of being incarcerated in their lifetimes, Latino men have a one-in-six chance and black men have a one–in-three chance (Mauer 2006). For black men ages 30–34, the age group with the most concentrated incarceration, 6,412 men per 100,000 are incarcerated. For Latinos in that age bracket, the rate is 2,457; for whites, it's just 1,111 (Carson 2015).

Postracial? The Case of Crime

When viewed from the vantage point of racial gains, the emergence of racialized mass incarceration seems anomalous. Many might not suspect that racial disparity would pervade a government institution as thoroughly as it has done in the criminal justice system. To the extent that race did emerge as a defining feature, we might expect that this could be easily corrected by appeal to the law or through court cases, congressional lobbying, or some other remediation. Yet, there has been no comprehensive reform package, congressional action, or presidential mandate to end racialized mass incarceration. Even in the era of plateauing incarceration rates, racial disproportionalities in the incarceration experience remain trenchant.

How can this be, particularly when so many see such strides being made in racial justice? The answer to this question is the subject of this book. Robert Allen (2005) has argued that two strategies developed simultaneously to maintain white racial power in the wake of the civil rights movement: (1) a mechanism of inclusion that permitted the development of a black and nonwhite intermediary class consisting of professionals and bureaucrats and (2) the expansion of the punitive state to target and continue the subjugation and oppression of a nonwhite disenfranchised populace.

While the number of black elected officials has increased from a few hundred in the early 1960s to around 10,000 today, black politicians hold only 2 percent of the total number of elected offices in the United States (Brown-Dean et al. 2015). The disparity is especially stark next to numbers of people incarcerated and suppressed by the criminal justice system cited earlier in this chapter (Allen 2005). The election of Obama and the gains of the civil rights movement were certainly significant, but they were set amid a larger expansion of political disenfranchisement due to the effects of criminalization. Thus, political gains by the black middle class have been relatively insignificant compared to the much larger, often hidden processes by which black and brown communities became embedded within the criminal justice system.

This book tells the story of how the criminal justice system became the newest institution managing racial governance in the United States. The criminal justice system is part of a broader legacy of state institutions — from slavery to Jim Crow — through which race has been created, reproduced, and managed. This book tells how this happened and explains why we should not be entirely shocked by the events in Charlottesville in 2017. Instead, we argue, Charlottesville represents an extreme example of what has been one of the most continuous trends in the history of the United States — white racial domination. Though Charlottesville is considered extreme and unrepresentative of the U.S. populace, it is connected to the ways that white racial structures are sublimated through the institutions of everyday life. Even while many — including whites — work toward a postracial future, the policies, practices, and assumptions underwriting state institutions reflect this racialized worldview.

This happened even though the policies and structures of state institutions, including the justice system, are formally race neutral. This race neutrality, however, is not divorced from the broader social context, and thus the race-defined ways we think about crime are baked into the ways policies are implemented, even in the seemingly postracial era. To demonstrate, let's consider how the criminalization of race happens through the emergence today of seemingly race-neutral, "objective," and "rational" approaches to policing.


Criminology and criminal justice practice today take a seemingly much more objective and scientific approach to the study of crime than in generations past. Police, for instance, have embraced forms of policing based on statistical models and evidence-based practices. This, we might hope, more evenly distributes policing across the population, reflecting an even distribution of criminal activity across racial lines (Hagan and Foster 2004; Beckett and Sasson 2007). Yet, even one of the most celebrated and seemingly objective, rational approaches to policing was embedded in a racialized imagination of the world.

One widely known example of this new form of policing is COMPSTAT, which was developed in New York (McDonald and Greenberg. 2002; Smith and Bratton 2001). COMPSTAT stands for "compare statistics" and is a police management practice of using statistical information to identify "hot spots" of crime and then targeting enforcement accordingly. Prior to COMPSTAT, policing was riddled with examples of racially discriminatory policing, and police regularly used force to subjugate and oppress communities of color, some of which we describe in subsequent chapters. COMPSTAT was intended to allow police to focus on areas where they were most needed. As a result, police embarked on a new model of policing based on crime rates and their distribution over urban areas.

With COMPSTAT, authorities could identify hot-spot neighborhoods where crime concentrated (Braga and Bond 2008). This move made policing more "rational" and less tied to stereotypes and subjective assumptions considered a product of earlier models of policing. This also moved policing into what many considered a color-blind or postracial era, where police are deployed strategically in response to crime rates and not because of the racial threat of a particular community.


Excerpted from "Race and Crime"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Elizabeth Brown and George Barganier.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 Race, Crime, and Justice: Definitions and
2 Race, Colonialism, and the Emergence of Racial
3 The History of Racial Science: Social Science and
the Birth of Criminology
4 Social Problems and the U.S. Racial State
5 Housing Inequality and the Geography of
Residential Racial Segregation
6 The Problem of Urban America: Race and the
Emergence of Mass Incarceration
7 Policing the City
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