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The Illusion of Prison Statistics



A study from Stanford University has revealed the discomfort of American prison statistics. Prison statistics show that the percentage of black Americans in prison is much higher than the percentage of white people incarcerated— impeded prison reform among white Americans. Black Americans compose 12 percent of America’s population and are 40 percent of our prison population. The study has shown that white Americans informed of these numbers do not want prison reform. By prison reform, we are discussing policies such as the stop-and-frisk and the three strikes law which have led to the incarceration of more minorities than white Americans. California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law would send people convicted of even non-violent offenses to prison for life. Curtiss Wilkerson was sentenced to life in California for stealing a pair of plain white tube socks worth $2.50. He had two prior convictions from 14 years prior, when he was a very young man.

The Stanford study cited one test at a train station in San Francisco:

“A white female researcher asked 62 white voters to watch a video containing mug shots of male inmates. Some of the participants saw a video in which 25 percent of the mug shots were of black men, while others saw a video in which the percentage of black men among the mug shots rose to 45 percent. The participants then had an opportunity to sign a real petition aimed at easing the severity of California’s three-strikes law. 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 experiments proved that a substantial percentage of white Americans did not see the inequality of American justice when presented with lopsided numbers, but found the statistics supporting the unjust policies that contributed to the disproportionate numbers of imprisoned black Americans and other minorities.

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