RacialDiscrimination in America’s Criminal Justice System
Statementof the Problem
Itis impossible for anyone to claim that they exist in a society with aperfect justice system since justice is a human-made concept thatcontains human flaws. In America, there is a general perception amongminorities that the criminal justice system is designed to oppressthem while favoring the majority (Anderson, 2014). These perceptionsarise from what some view as the existence of sentencing disparityacross racial lines. For instance, one of the beliefs is that Blackpeople tend to receive a harsher punishment than the Caucasianindividual for a matching crime. These beliefs erode publicconfidence in the criminal justice system and alienate minoritiesfrom law enforcement agencies.
Further,the issue of inequality in America’s justice system is compoundedby the problem of sentencing discrimination. Sentencingdiscrimination refers to a situation where the severity of thepunishment for a crime goes hand in hand with an individual’s raceor ethnicity1.These problems within the criminal justice system could be the resultof stereotypes and prejudice against certain races. Since those whowork charge of the criminal justice system are members of varioussocieties, they are likely to be influenced by what others say. Theproblem facing the criminal judicial system stems from lawmakingerrors in America’s past that have resulted in prejudice andexcessive penalties being levied against certain races in America.
Accordingto Thrasher (2016), historically, U.S presidents have relied on thedevelopment of punitive laws to appease their electorate, when facedwith a crime wave. The logic is that if one develops harsherpenalties for crimes, would-be criminals would be deterred fromcommitting offenses. However, as this essay will later show, thestatistics paint a different picture of the situation. Perry (2016)provides an overview of Elizabeth Hinton’s take on the racialproblems that exist within the U.S criminal justice system.2Perry states that according to Hinton, the war on crime and the waron inequality got intertwined and when that happened, policymakerslost focus of the real issues and began implementing one size fitsall solutions to problems that were better left separate.
Thewar on crime was targeted criminal gangs that had started expandingtheir businesses in America in the sixties and the seventies (Perry,2016). On the other hand, the war on inequality was designed tocombat racial discrimination and inequality through affirmativeaction and civil rights movements. However, since the civil rightsmovement was annoying many conservative politicians, they decided toattribute social problems (such as drug abuse) to disadvantagedminority groups such as Blacks (Perry, 2016). Thus, the war oninequality became enjoined with the war on crime.
ChangesThat Brought About Disparity
Theracial disparity in the criminal justice system was a systematicprocess that was made worse by each successive president. During histerm, President Kennedy signed the Youth Offenses Act of 1961, and itwas aimed at correcting black youth rather than according themjustice (Perry, 2016). Later on, in 1965, President Johnson signedthe Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which changed the police into amilitarized unit that was designed to counter the growing number ofdrug dealers in America’s streets (Perry, 2016). At the same time,the civil rights movements were gaining momentum. As such, it was notuncommon for protesters to clash with police units. These incidencesled to the assumption that black people were societal troublemakers(Perry, 2016). Further, a militarized police force was not concernedwith addressing inequality. Rather, it focused on quelling anytroublemakers (usually black people protesting).
PresidentNixon also took a tough stance on drugs. However, as his chief ofdomestic policy, John Ehrlichman, would later reveal, the war ondrugs was a war that targeted black people (LoBianco, 2016). Nixon’steam embarked on a campaign that aimed at associating black peoplewith drugs and substance abuse. Moreover, President Nixon providedstates with monetary incentives to construct new incarcerationfacilities to house the projected number of delinquents that would beswept up by police (Perry, 2016). As a result, many black individualsended up in prisons. Additionally, the Juvenile Justice andDelinquency Prevention Act of 1974 that was signed by President Fordprescribed harsher penalties for minors who committed crimes (Perry,2016).3
TheJuvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 had effectssimilar to that of President Nixon’s policies, albeit to adifferent population group since it ended up sending many teenagersto prison (Perry, 2016). Noteworthy, the law, caused racialdisparities to grow in juvenile facilities. Further, it resulted in asituation where White children were treated as persons who neededrehabilitation while the Black ones treated like individuals whoneeded to be punished (Perry, 2016). When Jimmy Carter becamepresident, he developed housing projects to alleviate the livingsituation of marginalized people, most of whom were from minorityraces (Perry, 2016). However, these housing estates turned intopoliced zones where police would watch over the perceiveddelinquents.
PresidentReagan’s Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 restricted thescope of the parole system (meaning people stayed in prison longer)and even promoted the death penalty, among other harsh penalties fordrug peddlers.It also reduced the amount of money that the governmentspent on correctional and rehab programs (Perry, 2016).
Statistically,the U.S has the world’s highest correctional facility population.One-fourth of all inmates in the world can be found in the U.S.Research by Mauer (2011) shows that in the year 1954, there wereapproximately one hundred thousand Black individuals in Americanprisons. Comparatively, in 2011, the number of Black people incorrectional facilities was close to one million. Thus, in just 57years more than 800,000 African Americans had been sent to jail. Haug(2012) states that the skewed policies that have been developed bysuccessive U.S governments, in their attempt at reducing crime, havecontributed to the mass incarceration of black persons.
Theproblem of mass incarceration of minorities extends to the juvenilesystem. The probability that a black teenager will end up in prisonis four times that of a white teenager. Even Hispanic teens have a 61percent chance of getting locked up in correctional facilities. Thus,the problem is not limited to one minority group. Noteworthy, Latino,and Black people form 58 percent of all prisoners in America, yetthey form twenty-five percent of all the individuals in the U.S.Further, white people confess to using drugs at a rate that is seventimes that of blacks. However, African Americans are at a tenfoldrisk of being jailed as compared to Caucasians (Rhodes, Kling,Luallen, and Dyuous, 2015).
Cook(2014) notes that in the city of Boston, Black individuals make upslightly over 24 percent of the total residents, but 63 percent ofall police encounters with civilians. This means that police are morelikely to stop an individual just because they are black.4Further,research by Beckett and Evans (2014) shows that in states such asWashington, being from a minority race increases the chances that anindividual will be sentenced to death for a capital crime. Carson(2014) adds that blacks have a five-fold probability of beingincarcerated in the US when contrasted with Caucasian individuals.
Thedata overwhelmingly supports the assumptions of minority groups thatthey are unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system. Numerousresearch and reports show the same inconsistency exists when it comesto sentencing, with regards to race. Rather than ignore the issue,policymakers should take corrective measures to prevent the problemfrom escalating further. Having 900,000 people from one race inprison seems unfair and is a waste of human resources. Americans arespending a lot of money in keeping their fellow Americans withinfacilities that mainly punish but fail to rehabilitate inmates. It isimportant to understand the cause of the issue, but apportioningblame on individuals from the past will not alleviate the sufferingof prisoners who are struggling in correctional facilities. Changesare needed in the criminal justice system. These changes shouldpromote equality and reduce the impact of racial prejudice on thedelivery of justice.
Problemswithin the U.S justice system have resulted in the mass incarcerationof minority groups. The judicial processes have been affected by biasand prejudice, and as a result, African Americans and other smallraces are being punished for their crimes rather than beingrehabilitated. Successive governments have attempted to combat theproblem of crime in America by instituting harsher penalties, butthat has failed to deter criminals. The problem has also affected thejuvenile system where minors are serving long terms, and most of themare either Hispanic or Black. It is costly and wasteful to lockpeople in prisons with no plan to rehabilitate them. The harshpenalties that have been developed by successive governments shouldbe replaced by more progressive techniques that promoterehabilitation more than punishment.
Anderson,M. (2014). Vastmajority of blacks view the criminal justice system as unfair.pewresearch.org.Retrieved 19 December 2016, fromhttp://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/08/12/vast-majority-of-blacks-view-the-criminal-justice-system-as-unfair/
Beckett,K. & Evans, H. (2014). TheRole of Race in Washington State Capital Sentencing, 1981-2012.Washington: University of Washington. Retrieved fromhttp://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/race-and-death-penalty
Carson,E. A. (2014). Prisonersin 2013.Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved6 December 2016, from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p14.pdf
Cook,L. (2014). No,Justice is Not Colorblind.USNews.Retrieved 19 December 2016, fromhttp://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/12/11/no-justice-is-not-colorblind
Haug,N. C. (2012). Raceand the criminal justice system: A study of racial bias and racialinjustice.B.A. California Polytechnic State University. Retrieved fromhttp://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1104&context=socssp
Rhodes,W., Kling, R., Luallen, J., and Dyuous, C. (2015) FederalSentencing Disparity: 2005–2012. Cambridge,MA: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved fromhttps://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fsd0512.pdf
LoBianco,T. (2016). Report:Aide says Nixon`s war on drugs targeted blacks, hippies.cnn.com.Retrieved 19 December 2016, fromhttp://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/
Mauer,M. (2011). Addressing Racial Disparities in Incarceration. ThePrison Journal,91(3Suppl), 87S-101S. Retrieved fromhttp://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Addressing-Racial-Disparities-in-Incarceration.pdf
Perry,I. (2016). ‘Fromthe War on Poverty to the War on Crime,’ by Elizabeth Hinton.Nytimes.com.Retrieved 19 December 2016, fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/books/review/from-the-war-on-poverty-to-the-war-on-crime-by-elizabeth-hinton.html
Thrasher,S. (2016). Fromthe War on Poverty to the War on Crime review – disturbing history.TheGuardian.Retrieved 19 December 2016, fromhttps://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/19/from-the-war-on-poverty-to-the-war-on-crime-review-elizabeth-hinton
RacialDisparities in Sentencing.(2014) American Civil Liberties Union.Retrieved19December 2016fromhttps://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141027_iachr_racial_disparities_aclu_submission_0.pdf
Hinton,E. K. (2016). From the war on poverty to the war on crime: The makingof mass incarceration in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: HarvardUniversity Press,
TheJuvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. (2016).Ojjdp.gov.Retrieved19 December 2016,fromhttps://www.ojjdp.gov/compliance/jjdpchronology.pdf
Police-PublicContacts.(2016). bjs.gov.Retrieved 19 December 2016, fromhttp://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=70
1 Refer to https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141027_iachr_racial_disparities_aclu_submission_0.pdf for more information
2Hinton provides an extensive review of the historical problems in her book titledFrom the war on poverty to the war on crime: The making of mass incarceration in America.
3 More information on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 is available at https://www.ojjdp.gov/compliance/jjdpchronology.pdf
4Extensive data on the racial disparity arising from police encounters is freely available at http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=70