The United States criminal justice system is the largest in the world. At yearend 2015, over 6.7 million individuals1) were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.2) The U.S. is a world leader in its rate of incarceration, dwarfing the rate of nearly every other nation.3)
Such broad statistics mask the racial disparity that pervades the U.S. criminal justice system, and for African Americans in particular. African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences. African-American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites and Hispanics are 3.1 times as likely.4) As of 2001, one of every three black boys born in that year could expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as could one of every six Latinos—compared to one of every seventeen white boys.5) Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.6)
The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and people of color. The wealthy can access a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system.
From The Sentencing Project.