U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Crack as Proxy: Aggressive Federal Drug Prosecutions and the Production of Black-White Racial Inequality

NCJ Number
Law & Society Review Volume: 52 Issue: 3 Dated: 2018 Pages: 773-809
Date Published
37 pages
This article reports on a study that empirically examined jurisdictional variations in federal crack prosecutions to measure whether aggressive crack prosecutorial practices were associated with racial inequality in federal caseload characteristics and outcomes.

Building on theories that address the production of inequality in institutional settings, this study hypothesized that U.S. Attorneys' offices that were more proactive in charging defendants with crack, relative to other kinds of drugs and case strength and seriousness, would demonstrate higher rates of Black-White racial inequality in case outcomes across the entire criminal caseload. Consistent with theories of institutional racism, the study found that aggressive crack prosecutions at the district level were a strong predictor of Black-White inequality in conviction rates across the entire criminal caseload, and a much more modest predictor of inequality in final sentence outcomes. This study concludes with a discussion of the importance of organizational-level empirical analyses for a more effective identification of the conditions under which inequality can and does flourish in legal settings. Suggestions are offered for future lines of inquiry along these lines. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2018