November 3, 2022 | View this edition in your browser.
Welcome to What Could Go Right?, where we'll address the attack on Paul Pelosi—as well as the midterms—next week with some resources for getting us out of what author Amanda Ripley calls "high conflict."

A more equitable criminal justice system
The racial disparities in the United States’ criminal justice system have been an activist talking point and area of mobilization for years. Has any progress actually been made? In September, the nonpartisan think tank Council for Criminal Justice (CCJ) released a report with racial disparity data through 2020. (We just found it on Monday through The New York Times’ “The Morning” newsletter, which has been making a concerted and explicit effort recently to avoid bad news bias.)

CCJ found that “Although significant gaps remain, disparities between Black and White people continue to narrow at nearly every stage of the criminal justice process between 2016 and 2020.” From the report:

  • In 2020, Black adults were imprisoned at 4.9 times the rate of White adults, down from 8.2 times in 2000. This includes all four offense categories—violent, property, drug, and public order.

  • The Black-to-White disparity in arrest rates fell between 2000 and 2020, with the drop for drug and property crimes driving the decrease. 

  • By 2019, the Black-White disparity in arrest rates for non-fatal violent crimes was eliminated.

  • The disparity in prison admissions for Black and White people has dropped. In 2000, Black people were 7.2 times more likely than White people to be admitted to state prison; by 2020, they were 3.2 times more likely. The Black-to-White disparity in admissions for property and drug crimes was nearly eliminated.

  • Admissions for technical violations of parole no longer drive imprisonment disparities.

  • Disparity in length of stay in prison increased between 2000 and 2020. Black people served an average of 0.2 years longer in 2000 and 0.7 years longer in 2020. The time served gap grew most dramatically for people convicted of drug crimes.

Black and White Imprisonment Rates, 2000-2020
Overall, the disparity in Black and White state imprisonment rates has fallen 40 percent over the past 20 years. In the chart above, the number of Black inmates per 100,000 adults is shown on the left-side axis, while the number of White inmates per 100,000 adults is shown on the right-side axis. | Credit: CCJ

The report does not get into how this all happened. The New York Times attributed some of it to pushback against mass incarceration, long prison sentences, and the war on drugs generally. In this newsletter last month, we reported on the US’ declining incarceration rates as a whole. So while that and what The New York Times says must certainly be part of the story, they do not fully explain, for instance, a finding such as the disparity elimination of arrest rates for non-fatal violent crimes, which perhaps paints an interesting picture around changes in policing. Neither does it adequately address the prison stay disparity increase. We don’t have the answers ourselves, but we’ll be eagerly awaiting more reporting on this. 

While activists are commonly afraid that sharing such success risks taking people’s foot off the gas, we see it as a call to carefully examine what has worked so far, so we can continue doing it. In the best case scenario, we have a system that protects the public, has its trust, and leads to fair outcomes across the board. To see these improvements during a time of declining crime levels seems to point toward the possibility of accomplishing it all. 

Taking a look at the data in combination, the report concludes that “the remaining disparity in imprisonment rates is primarily a function of racial differences in offending rates and longer prison time served by Black people convicted of violent crimes.” The authors suggest that closing all racial disparity gaps will depend on addressing those factors. 

Before we go
More proof the pandemic spurred action. Black, Hispanic, and Native American populations each saw enormous coverage gains through the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace.

The International Energy Agency estimates that global carbon emissions rose in 2022, but more slowly. The rise of renewable energy and electric cars avoided a much higher rise, by the order of almost a billion tonnes. By the way, if you’re not sure what the heck "tonnes" means in reference to carbon, this interactive guide is fantastic. (One shorthand they offer: one tonne is the approximate weight of nine Lebron Jameses. So the next time you imagine carbon emissions as billions of Lebron Jameses being released into the atmosphere all over the world, you can thank reader Gabrielle, who sent this in to us.) Also, a NASA satellite just found a bunch of methane “super-emitters” we didn’t know existed. Good news, because now we can move to plug the leaks.

Honduras will legalize the morning after pill for rape victims. All of Mexico’s 32 states have legalized same-sex marriage. 

Last but not least, we adored these “five secrets to raise your news IQ.”

Below in the links section, new national parks for Norway, legal recreational cannabis for Germany, birdsong for mental health, and more.

—Emma Varvaloucas

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Stockholm, Sweden, is swinging for the fences with an uber-cheap bicycle rideshare program that is also dockless (see above). A day plan for the bikes costs under a dollar. A yearlong plan, only $14.
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Op-ed: We need better rules around working in extreme heat
As we move into a climate-uncertain future, we should be considering policies that specify heat-related working conditions. | Read more 
World energy, student loans, and Iran | S3 E6
This week on the What Could Go Right? podcast: Is the world’s energy situation as bad as we think? What’s going on with student debt relief? And why aren’t we paying more attention to Iran? We’re joined by Reza Aslan, leading expert in world religions, writer, and professor, to talk about the current, and former, Iranian struggles for freedom. | Listen to the episode
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The affirmative action that colleges really needThe Atlantic
Universities want to protect the status quo, because it’s easy for them.

Why we picked it: As we wait for a decision from the Supreme Court around affirmative action, it’s worth asking: does the system we have in place now successfully lift people up? —Emma Varvaloucas
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