We can argue that the unequal treatment of minorities in America’s justice systems is perhaps one of the most serious problems facing the United States in the new millennium. Statistical pieces of evidence to support the truth in these assertions are indeed overwhelming. Moreover, many Americans both white and black firmly accept that this is true. In early 1999, the National Center for State Courts conducted a survey on which around 2,000 people were asked to express their opinions and what they feel about the courts. The survey revealed that only 23% of the respondents had high confidence and trust in the community courts while 52% only had “some” trust in the courts. Moreover, the survey indicated much dissatisfaction with the judicial system in regards to timeliness, justice, accountability, fairness, equality and independence. The dissatisfaction level of Africans Americans was higher in every category. 68 percent of Africans Americans felt that they were not treated equally with the whites and paradoxically, around 45% of the white respondents agreed with this perception. In summary, nearly half the whites surveyed and a majority of the African Americans surveyed by the National Center for State Courts believed that the justice system is racially skewed (Dunnaville, 2000).
A recent report shared by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights dubbed “Justice on Trial: Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System,” reveals that racial disparities may have increased instead of subsiding over the past few years. The conclusion of the report states that racial inequality has ostensibly been growing rather than receding despite the United States making overall significant progress in the past half-century towards the objective of ensuring equality in treatment under the law for all people in the critical area of criminal justice. Furthermore, the facially neutral are enforced in a manner that is pervasively and massively biased. The report indicates serious findings of systematic unequal treatment of Hispanic Americans and African Americans among other minorities compared to their white counterparts in a similar situation within the criminal justice system. Dissimilar treatment of minorities typically kicks off at the very first stage of the criminal justice system which is the investigation of suspected criminal activity usually done by law enforcement officials. Most innocent minority citizens are arrested by the police in their cars and on the street more than the whites. These stops involve loss of privacy, humiliation, and inconvenience that is heightened when the rationale for police action is the pedestrian’s accent or the driver’s skin. Moreover, during some interrogations and investigations, the police employ tactics that extremely shock the conscience. The differing implementation of justice continues all the way and can be clearly seen through the trial, jury deliberation, and even sentencing. According to the report, every stage of the process is characterized by unequal treatment of minorities. Hispanic Americans, blacks, and other minority groups are victimized by unfair treatment and disproportionate targeting by police among other law enforcement officials, racially skewed prosecutors, failure of judges, and discriminatory sentencing practices.
A wide variety of research reveals clearest indicators of racial disparities at various phases of the justice process, especially against the African Americans. The following data will support the assertion (Kahn & Kirk, 2015);
i. There is a high probability for Black Americans to be arrested for drug use
According to federal data, the police detain Africans Americans for drug crimes at twice the rate the whites are arrested despite the fact that whites use drugs and also sell them at comparable or even higher rates. Since the 80’s the number of Black Americans arrested has always been twice or even thrice that of whites arrested per 100,000 people.
ii. African American citizens are more likely to be offered a plea deal that includes prison time
A 2014 study in New York found out that black defendants are more likely to be offered plea deals including jail time than non-black minorities or whites. African Americans were 13 percent more likely than whites to get such deals even after controlling many factors such as previous records and seriousness of charges.
iii. There are more chances for Black Americans to be jailed while awaiting trial
The same New York City study revealed that blacks were more likely than nonblack minorities or whites to be in jail while they await trial even after controlling for prior record or seriousness of charges. However, some researchers argue that this disparity is often because black defendants cannot afford to pay their bail. Temporary incarceration disrupts employment and family life, makes it harder for the defendant to prepare a defense and stigmatizes the defendant.
iv. Hispanic and Black American drivers and motorists are more likely to have their vehicles searched
Police officers are three times as likely to stop and search cars driven by black drivers than white drivers. Evidence from the Bureau of Justice Statistics illustrates that nationally, black drivers are more likely to be stopped without reason. One Rhode Island study showed that black drivers were pulled over more than whites or other minorities even though they were less likely than other races to receive a citation
v. African Americans are more likely to serve longer sentences than whites for the same offense
According to a 2012 working paper, there is concrete evidence to prove that black male federal defendants were granted longer sentences than comparable whites. Black American men sentences were on average 10 percent longer than those of their white peers. This can somehow be explained by the fact that prosecutors are twice more likely to file charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences against blacks than against whites.
vi. There are more chances for Black Americans to have their probation revoked
According to recent probation outcomes studies in Texas, New York, Lowa and Oregon, black convicts have their probation revoked more often than other minorities and whites. These racial disparities are held even when the study controlled for other characteristics of the probationers including their age, criminal history, and crime severity.
vii. African Americans are more likely to be disenfranchised due to a felony conviction
Most American states restrict the voting rights of citizens who have been convicted of a crime. Since African Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, voter disenfranchisement has a disproportionate effect on them. Recent estimates from the sentencing project claim that 2.5% of all Americans are disenfranchised due to the past or current felony conviction. Black Americans have a significant portion; 7.7 percent which translates to approximately 1 in 13.
A central section of the mythology of the criminal justice system in America is that every citizen is treated equally regardless of his or her class or race. The concept that no one is above the law is a noble one, and like many good ideologies, realities usually lags far behind the rhetoric (Wright, 2010). While the rich can hire excellent attorneys, it’s difficult for the poor to afford one. The poor will also find it hard to post bail while for the wealthy, it will be easy. They will just sit in jail until the case is resolved. The poor cannot also post restitution like the rich since they do not have the means to pay for damage done. Restitution can help solve the case with potentially fewer sanctions made against the accused. If the accused is poor and cannot be able to raise the restitution up front, he or she will be required to pay “probation fees” until when the complainant is made whole (Derusha, 2011).
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