Langan, Patrick A.
September 1985
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology;Fall1985, Vol. 76 Issue 3, p666
Academic Journal
This article presents the results of a study that tested two competing and controversial explanations of the relatively large numbers of blacks in state prisons. The one--the differential involvement hypothesis--attributes the high percentage of blacks in prison to their more frequent criminal involvement. The other explanation--the racial discrimination hypothesis--attributes it to pervasive racial discrimination against blacks in the administration of criminal justice. The findings much more strongly supported differential involvement than racial discrimination. At the rate that blacks committed crimes in 1973, blacks would have constituted at least 48.9 percent of prison admissions that year under a perfectly nondiscriminatory justice system. The fact that blacks did not constitute more than 48.9 percent suggests that discrimination was not the reason for their overrepresentation in prison admissions in 1973. In 1979, 43.8 percent of prison admissions would have been black under a nondiscriminatory justice system. Since blacks made up only 48.1 percent of admissions, discrimination, if it existed, accounted for very little of the overrepresentation of blacks in prison admissions in 1979. Similarly, in 1982, a nondiscriminatory system would have resulted in a black percent-age of admissions of 44.9 percent while the actual percentage was 48.9 percent. These findings confirm those of Blumstein who, in a pioneering study using police arrest statistics to investigate one-day prison populations, also concluded that differential involvement, not racial discrimination, largely explained the racial composition of prisons in the United States.


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