Overrepresentation of minorities, particularly Blacks continues to be a persistent problem in our society. The Black race has made tremendous leaps and bounds in our efforts to achieve equal treatment and opportunities in these United States of America, the fact that we have a black president serving his second term in office speaks volumes about the progression the black race has made. However, the racial disparity that exists in our criminal justice system continues to be a complex problem that plagues the black community. The disproportionate arrest and incarceration of minorities has without question weakened and undermined the black community, family, and neighborhood. In this paper the meaning of racial disparity will be defined and it will also discuss the impact of racial disparity. The paper concludes by discussing strategies for reducing racial disparity.
Overwhelming evidence suggest that the U.S. prison population consist of a disproportionate amount of blacks. The credibility of the American Justice System continues to be on trial in the most racially diverse democratic nation in the world. The overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal justice systems has been studied and debated for decades, but a solution to this problem continues to elude our society. Experts and analysts have contributed the racial disparity to factors such as higher crime rates among African Americans, inequitable access to resources, legislative resources, and overt racial bias. Racial disparity is not necessarily a result of discrimination. Legal factors and extralegal factors contribute to the racial disparity. Legal factors include seriousness of the offense and prior criminal record. These are legitimate reasons for disparities because they pertain to an individual’s criminal behavior. Extralegal factors include race, class, and gender. These are not legitimate factors upon which to base decisions because they relate to group membership rather than criminal behavior (Cliffnotes.com, 2012).
Racial disparity in the criminal justice system exists when the proportion of a racial or ethnic group within the control of the system is greater than the proportion of such groups in the general population. The causes of such disparity are varied and can include differing levels of criminal activity, law enforcement emphasis on particular communities, legislative policies, and/or decision making by criminal justice practitioners who exercise broad discretion in the justice process at one or more stages in the system (The Sentencing Project, 2008). For example, Blacks comprise about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for about 40 percent of the prison population. Another type of racial disparity occurs whenever there are a significantly larger percentage of members of a racial/minority group involved in a part of the criminal justice system than whites. For example, only about a quarter of minorities use drugs which is almost the same rate as whites; however blacks are four times as likely as whites to be arrested on drug charges. Many experts attribute this prison growth to the tough “war on drugs” policies. In the 1980s U.S. legislation issued a number of new drug laws with stiffer penalties. Many of those charged with drug crimes saw longer prison sentences with less judicial leniency when facing trial. In the five year period from 1986-1991, the number of African-Americans incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses increased by 465 percent. By 1994, African-Americans and Latinos constituted 90 percent of all drug offenders in state prisons (Garland, Spohn, & Wodahl, 2008). Every state now has some form of mandatory sentencing, often applying to those who commit drug related crimes. These stark statistics are even more disturbing considering that studies indicate that a large percentage of drug sellers used the drug trade to primarily support their own drug addiction and enrollment in a substance abuse program may have been a more constructive option than prison. In 2005, 8.1 percent of all black males age 25-29 were in prison, compared to 2.6 percent of Hispanics males and 1.1 percent of white males (Garland, Spohn & Wodahl). There is also an overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system. These facts suggest that lawmakers and community leaders need to spend time focusing not only on the criminal justice system but also on the risk factors such as social and economic disparities that exist in our society that ultimately lead to disparities in the criminal justice system. At the end of 2006, one in 31 individuals was under some sort of criminal justice supervision (i.e., prison, jail, parole, or probation), and the majority of them were people of color. The enormous increase in the use of jails and prisons has taken place without persuasive evidence indicating that incarcerative strategies are the only, or even the most effective, approach to controlling crime (The Sentencing Project, 2008). Sentencing alternatives which seek to over job training, rehabilitation, or education would assist in easing the continued burden in black communities across the United States.
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- Louis Howell Jr (Author), 2012, Racial Disparity in America's Criminal Justice System, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/293516