Yes, the criminal justice system continues to be racist and highly disproportionate numbers of Black and Hispanic people are incarcerated. But the prevalence of criminal justice involvement, even among minorities, is way down from its peak. This dramatic phenomenon is partly obscured by the continued high arrest and incarceration rates of older men. As Rick Nevin tells us in the linked post, from 1991 to 2013 the juvenile arrest rates fell by 63% for violent crime, and 71% for property crime. This can be entirely explained by exposure to lead from gasoline and paint.
As a sociologist, I have of course been attracted to all of the theories about the effects of poverty and cultural milieus and discrimination and how the removal of jobs from the inner city and the legacy of slavery and the punitive responses of the state and what have you created the school to prison pipeline. And while all those are no doubt exacerbating factors, none of them has been fixed, and yet this miracle has occurred.
There is of course much more to this story. Industries that used lead fought just as hard as the tobacco and fossil fuel industries against the science, and succeeded in continuing to poison children for decades. But courageous scientists persisted and the result is a much better world. Keep that in mind as Republicans continue to inveigh against environmental regulation. Sometimes it really is just that simple.