Harvard did most detailed study on why so many Blacks and Latinx in jail

Harvard did the most detailed study on why so many Blacks and Latinx are in jail. Guess what they found?

Why are so many Black and Latinx people in jail? The answer will not surprise you 1


Why are so many Black and Latinx people in jail? The answer will not surprise you — prison abolitionists have been saying it for years.

Harvard University’s Criminal Justice Policy Program released a report this month that found that Black and Latinx people are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system compared to their population in the state of Massachusetts. Both groups serve longer sentences as well.

Using data collected from several Massachusetts criminal justice agencies, the report analyzes racial and ethnic disparities throughout the criminal process. On every level, the report found that the criminal justice system in Massachusetts suffers from institutionalized racism.

And it’s not because Black and Latinx people commit more crimes. In fact, researchers found that White people generally commit more serious crimes but spend less time in prison.

  • Cops are more likely to arrest Black and Latinx people on charges that face worse sentencing.
  • Prosecutors are more likely to elevate cases to the Superior Court and less likely to offer defendants plea deals
  • Judges sentence Black and Latinx people to longer sentences.

On average, Black people are receiving sentences that are an average 168 days longer than their White counterparts, while Latinx people are receiving sentences an average of 148 days longer.

As Michael Harriot from The Root puts it, “a white person has to commit an egregious offense to wind up behind bars while all a Black person has to do is…well, be a Black person.”

It’s a question of labor and disenfranchisement

People protesting voter supression

Flickr / Michael Fleshman

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” – 13th Amendment of the Constitution

These statistics should come as no surprise. Prisons are an extension of systems of racial government, institutionalized during the years that followed the abolition of slavery.

As author Cecil J Hunt says in her book, The Jim Crow Effect, the criminalization of Black people continued with the advent of mass incarceration. The War on Drugs, punitive policies like mandatory minimum sentencing, and the creation of the private prison system have further criminalized the Black and Latinx communities in the US.

Read more about the effects of the War on Drugs on the Latinx Community here.

Incarceration of the Latinx community continues to be a ‘drastically understudied phenomenon’

Photo showing a jail cell


The Latinx community is the second-largest group behind white people, with over 60 million people identifying as Latinx in the United States. There is widespread disagreement about whether the Latinx identity is a racial or ethnic category, which presents a major challenge when data is collected for these kinds of reports.

This lack of data contributes to inaccuracies about the full extent of racial disparities in the criminal system.

States that fail to collect data on Latinx people usually count them as white, leading to white people being overrepresented in the criminal system data. This obscures the full extent of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

The report calls for “more theoretical, historical, and sociological research… about the unique structural and historical forces operating on Latinx people in relation to the criminal system” and how those stereotypes about criminality came to be developed.


Why are so many Black and Latinx people in jail? The answer will not surprise you

Screenshot / Twitter

Black history is Latinx history. Independence from Spain could not have happened without the slave revolts in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Latino and Black civil rights movements have been intertwined for over a century, as many justice and legislative wins one community has achieved throughout the 20th century have only helped the other pursue justice. In fact, César Chávez has openly spoken about learning important lessons from the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

Because of white supremacy, both of our communities suffer from the same civil, environmental, health, and economic injustices, at higher rates than any other group in the US. At the end of the day, higher rates of incarceration mean higher rates of disenfranchisement for the Black and Latinx community, meaning fewer opportunities for our communities and more barriers to obtaining housing, employment, and education.

Nation-wide protests continue to demand justice for victims of police brutality like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and so many others. Latinx activists have been calling for a stronger commitment from the Latinx community to stand in solidarity with the struggles of the Black community.

We must show up

Woman at a BLM protest holding a sign that says "We can't breath"


“Now is not the time for empty allyship. That has only gotten us so far in the past. Now is not the time to center white Latinx voices. There are Afro-Latinx who need to be heard. Now is not the time to compare struggles. Both communities undoubtedly face oppression, but anti-Black discrimination and oppression have been a shameful staple of this nation since its establishment. The fight to dismantle white supremacy has been fought for centuries. It is ongoing, and it demands our participation”. – Kelsey Garcia (PopSugar)

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