Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Economics

First Advisor

Brian Cadena

Abstract

What explains the differences in the black and white arrest rates? Previous authors have reached conflicting conclusions – differences in arrest rates can either be explained through black individuals committing a greater amount of crimes, or through a racial bias in policing methods. I create a model which explains how the racial composition of arrests changes as the ratio of black to white individuals varies between states. Using this model along with arrest and socioeconomic data by race at a state level, I estimate the difference in probability of arrest for a black individual compared to a white individual. These probabilities are used to determine the difference in the frequency with which blacks and whites commit crimes and the probability of arrest when committing a crime for both racial groups. I find that on average, blacks commit three to four times as many crimes as whites, and that the probability of arrest when committing crimes is three times greater for blacks than it is for whites, which is due to a racial bias in police methods. I conclude that the discrepancy between black and white arrests rates can be attributed to both of these factors.

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