The use of computer modeling in a newly published journal article brings into sharp relief the acute impact of incarceration on communities of color, reports Phys.org. In addition to sentencing biases that regularly condemn African Americans to longer prison terms for the same crimes committed by other population groups, social scientists have observed that the friends, family, and neighbors of incarcerated people often face an increased likelihood of being incarcerated themselves. Researchers from Virginia Tech, Louisiana State University, and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group found that the community-wide ripple effect caused by incarceration strongly resembles patterns seen in the spread of a contagious disease.
By re-creating these real-world incarceration trends within a computational model, these scientists have created a toolset that can estimate how a particular set of criminal justice reforms will impact overall rates of imprisonment. The group’s latest findings, which address methods for eliminating racial biases in imprisonment, were published in the journal Corrections: Policy, Practice, and Research. “Under our current justice system, communities of color are being exposed to the ‘contagion’ of incarceration at a much higher rate,” said James Hawdon of Virginia Tech. “Our model suggests that laws enforcing equal sentencing for individuals need to be paired with policies that address elevated risk of incarceration at the community level.”