Disparity and Discrimination

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Discrimination and disparity both play a role in the American criminal justice system. Many people confuse the two words whereas they have different meanings. We will therefore study the definitions of discrimination and disparity in the justice system and explain the difference between the two terms. We will conclude by giving one example from some other area of life.

According to the dictionary, disparity is defined as “the condition or fact of being unequal, as in age, rank, or degree ». In the criminal justice system, disparity consists of legal and extralegal factors. On the one hand, the legal factor provides legitimate base explanations for the decisions on the individual's criminal behavior and criminal record. It includes seriousness of the offense and prior criminal record. On the other hand, the extralegal factor includes lifestyle, gender, race, class, which are not legitimate reasons to base decisions on. The Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System, August 20 2010 reported that, in the United States, African Americans are incarcerated at more than six times the rate of Whites and Hispanics more than double the rate of Whites: this is an example of disparity. Disparity can be explained by economic inequality or residential segregation. In all cases, disparity refers to a difference but one does not always involve discrimination.

Discrimination, on the contrary, is a “difference based on differential treatment of groups without reference to an individual's behavior or qualifications” according to the Commission. Discrimination consists of four types such as institutionalized, systematic, contextual and individual act of discrimination. Institutionalized discrimination involves “racial disparities in outcomes that result from established policies”, systematic discrimination refers to the “type of discrimination that occurs at all levels of a social system including the criminal justice system”, contextual...
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