How Does Our Criminal Justice System Discriminate Today?

Racism is built into our criminal justice system.  It is systemic and present at all stages, including who is targeted for arrests, which cases go forward, which defendants are convicted, and what penalties they receive.  The system is operating as originally intended (controlling and incarcerating non-whites), and it will take training and reform at all levels to achieve change – legislation, police departments, prosecution offices, and court staff.  There are many who would prefer to maintain a racist system, some openly and many who will never admit it to others or to themselves.  I think that the first step in becoming part of the solution instead of part of of the problem is to acknowledge the problem.

  • Although 2001 estimates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics say 1 in 3, current estimates may be that 1 in 4 black males in the United States will go to jail or prison at least once during their lifetime.  Either way, is this acceptable?
  • In the United States, Black males are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than white males, and Hispanic males are 2.3 times more likely to be incarcerated than white males.
  • Traffic stops:  studies done in Kansas, New York, and Connecticut have shown that black drivers are significantly more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers.  The Connecticut study demonstrated that police were more likely to pull over black drivers in the daytime, when they can see the race of the driver.
  • Police searches: According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3 times as many black and Hispanic drivers were searched than white drivers, and police also ticketed black and Hispanic drivers at a higher rate than white drivers.
  • Use of force:  A study by the Center for Policing Equity found that police were more likely to use force against black people when making an arrest, including the use of tasers, dogs, pepper spray, and physical violence.
  • Children:  The Sentencing Project found that black children were twice as likely to be arrested as white children for alleged crimes at school, more likely to be held in detention at school, 2 and a half times as likely to be arrested for curfew violations as white children, and twice as likely to be arrested for any crime than white children.
  • Drug arrests:  According to the FBI, 29% of all drug arrests are black persons.  This is more than twice the black percentage of the U.S. population, which is 13% according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, rates of drug and alcohol abuse among whites and blacks are similar – blacks have a 1% higher incidence of drug use, while whites have a 3% higher incidence of binge drinking and a 1% higher incidence of substance abuse or dependence.
  • Marijuana specifically:  although the use of marijuana is the same for black or white populations, black persons are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana.
  • Charging decisions:  according to a study by University of Michigan Law School, in federal court, black defendants are nearly twice as likely to be charged with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants.
  • Incarceration in prison:  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, black people are sent to prison at twice the rate of white people.
  • Community service:  According to the National Academy of Sciences, white defendants are more likely to receive community service, while black defendants are more likely to receive prison sentences.
  • Incarceration for drug offenses in state courts:  According to Bureau of Justice statistics, 68% of all state inmates incarcerated for drug offenses are black or Hispanic.  32% are white.
  • Federal drug convictions:  According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 25% of all federal drug convictions in 2014 were black and 47% were Hispanic.  24% were white.
  • Incarceration in federal prisons:  22% are white.  76% are black or Hispanic.
  • Length of sentence:  According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, over a four year study, black men were incarcerated 19% longer than white men convicted of the same or similar crimes.
  • What about women?  According to the Sentencing Project, black women are nearly 3 times as likely to be incarcerated as white women.
  • Criminal records:  studies done in Arizona, Milwaukee, and New York have shown that white men with a criminal record have a better chance of finding work than black men without a criminal record.
  • Right to vote:  According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in 13 black persons have lost the right to vote due to felony records, compared to 1 in 56 non-black voters.

H/T to Bill Quigley from the Center for Constitutional Rights who has compiled and written about these statistics several times over the years.

It is necessary to look at the studies that have been done, and for universities, lawyers, and law students to continue to do these types of studies, to provide evidence of what many of us already know from personal experience working in the criminal justice system.  When you say black persons are more likely to be arrested than white persons, for example, there will be many people who will seize on this to say Aha – black people are arrested more because they are more prone to crime than white people!  Or black people are arrested and prosecuted more often for drug use because they use and sell drugs more than white people!

There will be those people who are unwilling or unable to accept the facts no matter what evidence you show to them.  For the rest of us and for the record in courts and legislatures, it is critical to present a complete and thorough view of the statistics.  It is important to know, for example, that there is objective evidence that shows that black people are in fact not more prone to addiction or drug use than white people.  Unfortunately, the fact that the white race is not inherently superior and that the black race is not inherently inferior must be objectively documented, along with the statistics on arrest and incarceration, until there are no race-based arguments left for those who are opposed to change.

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