The United States has a long history of associating race and crime. Among the first laws in Puritan Massachusetts were prohibitions on selling guns and alcohol to Indians. In the wake of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, southern states passed new codes limiting not just the rights and mobility of slaves but the freedoms of free–born blacks as well. The first laws limiting immigration in the United States targeted Chinese, who were popularly associated with opium and criminal activity. The first controls placed on marijuana occurred in the 1930’s as officials attempted to stem Mexican migration during the Great Depression. Trying to control crime associated with drug use in inner–city urban areas, lawmakers imposed stiffer federal penalties on crack cocaine use during the 1980’s than on the powder cocaine favored by suburban whites. When combined with mandatory sentencing laws, the end result has been a disproportional ballooning of African–America prison populations. Does this make the American criminal justice system racist? When governors feel compelled to end the use of the death penalty, can our justice system be considered fair?
These difficult questions are part of the scope of the new Encyclopedia of Race and Crime. Many of its 379 entries address such criminal justice issues as sentencing disparities, racial profiling and disproportionate incarceration rates. Other essays explain the influence of public opinion, media portrayals and the television news on both lawmaking and law enforcement. From Arab Americans to white supremacists, public policies relating to specific populations are explored. Capital crimes, drug trafficking, domestic violence and other offenses are examined from a racial standpoint, with particular attention to African, Asian, Latino and Native Americans. These groups and many others are compared with respect to arrest, conviction, incarceration and victimization rates. Biographical entries show how race has influenced the roles of law enforcement officers, criminologists, criminals, victims and reformers. Drug use, violent crime and race riots are subject to detailed analyses. So too are the features on American juvenile justice, prison system and courts. The scholarly entries generally begin with an outline of the topic and then present different views. Brief bibliographies suggest resources for further research, and appendices highlight statistical resources. One shortcoming is the fact that the latter do not include historical tables of relevant statistics. Granted, there is a value to instructions on finding the most current data, but many of the arguments presented discuss crime data over long periods of time. Tables providing historical comparisons would have been useful. There are also some perplexing entries. For instance, the article on the "Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System" does not really define who supports this idea, or how their arguments have affected the system overall. Nonetheless, this encyclopedia encourages the student to critically examine the criminal justice process in America and to employ careful analysis when exploring issues of race, gender and ethnicity involving crime. This set is recommended for collections supporting programs in criminal justice and public policy.