African Americans’ Skin Tone Impacts Justice System Contact

SENTENCING PROJECT–Darker skinned African Americans have a higher chance of having been arrested or incarcerated than those with lighter skin, Ellis P. Monk finds in “The Color of Punishment: African Americans, Skin Tone, and the Criminal Justice System,” published in Ethnic and Racial Studies. Race has long shaped the likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system—African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times that of whites. This research indicates intra-racial disparities also exist, with African Americans with the darkest complexions being over twice as likely to have ever been arrested or incarcerated compared to African Americans with the lightest complexions, after controlling for factors such as education and drug use. The study relied on nationally representative data from the National Survey of American Life 2001–2003. 



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