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Article

Marisa Omori and Oshea Johnson

There have been two major approaches to studying racial and ethnic inequality in punishment: The first approach comes from the sociology of punishment and social inequality literatures, and considers how the carceral state, including criminal justice institutions, create racial inequality through policies and practices broadly, or how racialized narratives are embedded in these policies and practices. This includes how scholarship has been drawn from institutional racism and other race literatures and integrated these ideas into how punishment policies and practices are racialized, as well as how the criminal justice system is both a consequence of and a contributor to increasing racial inequality. In particular, the social inequality literature has also been concerned with the rise of mass incarceration and its consequences for racial inequality in individuals, families, and communities. The second approach is drawn from the criminology literature on courts and sentencing, and generally focuses on the magnitude and location of racial disparities for individuals being processed in the criminal justice system, with a particular attention to sentencing outcomes. There are several complementary frameworks that have been used to frame racial inequalities in punishment outcomes; most of them focus on individual-level decisions and decision-makers, with some considerations of organizational-level factors. Most often, this literature also quantitatively tests racial disparities of court processing and court case outcomes, with a particular focus on sentencing of convicted defendants, including whether a defendant was sentenced to prison or not (the “in/out” decision), and the length of prison sentence. The two perspectives can inform each other; the sociology of punishment focuses on policies and practices that drive racial inequality, and the courts and sentencing literature focuses on the consequences of these factors in case processing outcomes.

Article

Racism  

Selena T. Rodgers

Racism is pervasive, endemic, and historically rooted in systematic assumptions inherent in superiority based on race and requires the critical attention of all social workers. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has made strides in tackling racism as demonstrated by the social worker and civil rights activist Whitney Young Jr. (1921–1971), other pioneers, and more recently, the NASW zero-tolerance racism policy. Undergirded in empirical discussion, this article leads with the etymology of race(ism), followed by a discussion of Racial Formation Theory and Critical Race Theory. The article gives a historical sketch of racism, followed by examples of its contemporary indicators—throughout social institutions—in the United States. Racism is pervasive and impinges on micro-level and macro-level systems. It is, therefore, beyond the scope of this article to address how racism impacts each group in America. Social work scholars and other experts have provided extensive empirical documentation about the historical trauma and sufferings of other racial groups (e.g., Native Americans/Native peoples/American Indians, Mexican Americans) discussed elsewhere. Specifically, the racism endured by blacks in America is the emphasis of this article. Themes of “colorism” and historical trauma are provided to contextualize advances in national reform and encourage a broader conversation about the racism that blacks experience globally. In addition, this article highlights strides by the social work profession to eradicate racism. Implications for social work are discussed.