Beyond the Trial: The Disproportionate Imprisonment of African Americans

  • Joshua Page
  • Sarah WhetstoneEmail author


The United States’ unprecedented expansion of imprisonment since the late 1970s has disproportionately affected African Americans, intensifying inequality and transforming the very meaning of race. Understanding the dynamics of criminal punishment is now essential for teaching about race. This chapter describes a common epistemological obstacle students encounter as they study the relationship between race and imprisonment – the “logic of the trial.” As they assign blame to the “culture” of the “underclass” or to “racist actors” in the legal system, students do not see the historically rooted, systemic nature of racial domination in American punishment. We propose three related strategies for getting “beyond the trial” and deepening students’ understanding of race in an era of mass incarceration. These strategies can help students transcend individual-level analysis and wrestle with the extensive, complex sociological factors that explain the causes and consequences of the hyper-incarceration of African Americans.


Racial Disparity Criminal Punishment Drug Trade Racial Profile Book Club 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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