The Criminal Justice System and the Racialization of Perceptions

Andrew M. Penner
Jessica M. Kizer
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Recent research on how contact with the criminal justice system shapes racial perceptions in the United States has shown that incarceration increases the likelihood that people are racially classified by others as black, and decreases the likelihood that they are classified as white. We extend this work, using longitudinal data with information on whether respondents have been arrested, convicted, or incarcerated, and details about their most recent arrest. This allows us to ask whether any contact with the criminal justice system triggers racialization, or only certain types of contact. Additional racial categories allow us to explore the racialization of crime beyond the black-white divide. Results indicate even one arrest significantly increases the odds of subsequently being classified as black, and decreases the odds of being classified as white or Asian. This implies a broader impact of increased policing and mass incarceration on racialization and stereotyping, with consequences for social interactions, political attitudes, and research on inequality.