Race differences in criminal involvement and racial pattems in the
criminal justice system have been important topics since the beginning of
American criminology.' The question of whether there are meaningful
racial disparities in the justice system has been important since the 1960s.^
In recent decades, a considerable literature focused on racial profiling by
police and racial differences in imprisonment, sentencing, and other areas of
criminal and juvenile justice processing has grown. There are both studies
that report no significant racial differences in criminal justice processing
and studies that report substantial differences. Taken together, how
meaningful are observed differences? Wilbanks concludes that they are
not.' He maintains that even in the studies that report statistically
significant racial differences in criminal justice outcomes, the effect sizes
are too small to really matter. In other words, Wilbanks argues that these
' Robert Crutchfield is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of
Washington. His research focuses on labor market participation and crime, and racial and
ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system. April Femandes is a Ph.D. student in the
Department of Sociology at the University of Washington. Her research interests include the
fear of crime, neighborhood policing, and incarceration. Jorge Martinez is a graduate
student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington. His research
focuses on immigration and crime, prison and street gangs, and deviance and social control.
' Hans von Hentig. Criminality of the Negro, 30 J. AM. INST. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY
662 (1940); F. Emory Lyon, Race Betterment and the Crime Doctors, 5 J. AM. INST. CRIM. L.
& CRIMINOLOGY 887 (1915); Booker T. Washington, Negro Crime and Strong Drink, 3 J.
AM. INST. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 384 (1912).
^ See generally Donald Black & Albert J. Reiss, Jr., Police Control of Juveniles, 35 AM.
Soc. REV. 63 (1970); Irving Piliavin & Scott Briar, Police Encounters with Juveniles, 69
AM.J. Soc. 206(1964).
' WILLIAM WILBANKS, THE MYTH OF A RACIST CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM (1987).
904 CRUTCHFIELD, FERNANDES & MARTINEZ [Vol. 100
differences are not "too much." Other criminologists have been heard to
say that while the difference is statistically significant, it really isn't enough
to make a real, cognizable difference in daily life. We cannot help but
wonder, though, if the minority driver pulled over a few extra times by
profiling officers, or the Latino sentenced to just a bit more time in prison,
or the African American with just a slightly higher probability of receiving
a capital sentence would agree that small effect sizes can be dismissed as
We began this Article by acknowledging that there is a wide range of
research results, but we do not concede that only small effect sizes have
been observed. Some studies find no racial or ethnic differences." Others
find modest differences,' and some report rather substantial racial
disparities in criminal justice processing.* Cleariy, if we compare
American criminal justice practices in the last decades of the twentieth
century and the first of…