Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System:
Rates of Incarceration of Blacks vs. Whites
No Equal Justice in the
American Criminal Justice System
Shawn Y. Williams
Troy University-Fort Benning
CJ 5571 Probation, Pardon, & Parole
Instructor’s: Dr. Ronald Craig
April 28, 2007
Racial inequality is growing. Our criminal laws, while facially neutral, are enforced in a manner that is massively and pervasively biased. My research will examine the U.S. criminal justice policies and how it has the most adverse effect on minorities. According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, out of a total population of 1,976,019 incarcerated in adult facilities, 1,239,946 or 63 percent are black or Latino, though these two groups constitute only 25 percent of the national population.
Some of the greatest racial disparities in rates of incarceration occur in states in which minorities are concentrated in urban areas, which tend to have both higher rates of crime and greater law enforcement activity. An analysis utilizing quantitative data will demonstrate that racial disparities exist in the American Criminal Justice System.
Purpose of the Research
US imprisonment rates are much higher than the rest of the world, and within the US, African Americans are imprisoned at least eight times as often as European Americans. Today, our criminal justice system strays far from this ideal. Unequal treatment of minorities characterizes every stage of the process. Black and Hispanic Americans, and other minority groups as well, are victimized by disproportionate targeting and unfair treatment by police and other front-line law enforcement officials; by racially skewed charging and plea bargaining decisions of prosecutors; by discriminatory sentencing practices; and by the failure of judges, elected officials and other criminal justice policy makers to redress the inequities that become more conspicuous every day. (Oliver, 2004) Racial disparities burden our justice system with the appearance and often the reality of unfairness. These disparities mock our stated ideals of justice for all, and they burden our colleagues in the legal profession who must work in such a system. (Sandy & Norman, 1992) That's why the ABA formed a Task Force on Minorities and the Justice System shortly after the Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King verdict. Its recommendations can provide an action plan to revive reform efforts leading to equal justice throughout America building on the great work done by the ABA Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession, first chaired by Dennis Archer and now by Robert Grey. (Sandy & Norman, 1992) Many states have already taken the initiative. Since 1986, over a dozen states have studied the problem of racial and ethnic bias in their judicial systems and begun to implement the recommendations. Other states are forming such efforts today. These state reports document what most of us already know that racial discrimination is widespread and deep frustration is pervasive among minority Americans. Blacks represented 43 percent of arrests, 54 percent of convictions, and 59 percent of prison admissions for violent crimes in 1994 (Crime and Criminal Justice 5), indicating that arrested blacks are more likely to be convicted, and convicted blacks are more likely to be imprisoned, compared with whites. Historically, America’s criminal justice system has clearly been biased against blacks for example, between 1930 and 1973, southern jurisdictions put to death 398 black men and 43 white men for the crime of rape. More recent instances of discrimination on the part of police and elsewhere in the criminal justice system have been documented in personal and media accounts. But assessing how much continuing discrimination contributes to the large black-white difference in criminal justice system involvement is difficult. Research suggests that most...
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