The judicial system in the U.S, just like those of many other countries of the world is marred by several cases of cases of miscarriages of justice. The most prominent of those, however, is that involving racial bias, and which it can be argued comprises the worst of judicial miscarriage in all states especially in the 21st century. This is despite however much we struggle as a nation to portray the country as the fairest and accommodating among the other nations of the world, especially the developed ones. A recent study published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2008 for example found that African-American males were about six times more likely to be incarcerated than their White counterparts, and that this particular racial group comprised of about 38% of all inmates in American prisons (Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System, 2007). This study explored the various forms of racial bias and injustices that exist today in the U.S courts and the criminal policies that are most affected by this scenario.
The first of the criminal policies studied in this paper are those involving the war on drugs. This has so far been one of the most controversial topics that are raised whenever racial injustice in the U.S is mentioned. Formulated in the early 1980s as an attempt to address the problem of drug abuse, the policy, which emphasizes more on punishment as opposed to treatment, has had an enormous impact on criminal justice over the past two decades. It is believed to be the single most significant contributor to the swell in the prison system in the country. The first racial group that comes to mind when the topic is brought up is the African-American race and to some extent, the South American decent population. Data from the UNODC show that even though Latinos and [eople of color are estimated to use drugs at a similar rate as their white counterparts, they make up 57% of those arrested over drug laws violations and almost 77% of the total inmates in federal and state prisons due to the same offense. The white population on the other hand only comprised of about 30%. Also, out of nine and 28 black and Latino children respectively, one of them had a parent imprisoned for drug-related offenses as compared to only one in every 57 of the white children. This points to a judicial system that imposes a disproportionate treatment of minorities and the low-income communities (Alliance, 2016).
Another aspect of criminal justice studied is the one that involves the mandatory minimums for criminal offenses. The sentencing guidelines give mandatory minimum sentences for various violations of the law. An example is the five-year mandatory sentence given for an illegal gun position, which could be served concurrently with other charges if one is found to be liable. The amount of total time to be given however depends on the prosecutors, who are cushioned by prosecutorial discretion and thus reserving the power to be lenient as they may see fit. In this context, a study done by the U.S Sentencing Commission in 2010 approximates that on average, the sentences handed to whites stood at 55 months, while the blacks received an average of 90 months in federal courts over the 2008-2009 period (Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System, 2007). Looking at the data, it could be concluded that blacks and the other minority groups were fond of committing the most serious offenses. Another study, however, reveals that rather than the above notion being correct, blacks and other minority groups were likely to receive sentences more than twice longer than their white counterparts even when caught and sentenced with the same felony. It went on to conclude that the blacks received harsher punishments while the prosecutors were more lenient on white offenders, thus handing them lesser penalties for similar crimes. This points to the existence of an appallingly biased judicial system when it comes to handing out mandatory minimum sentences (Rehavi & Starr, 2014).
Racial disparities also exist at all levels of the criminal justice system as far as minority groups are concerned. Research shows substantial evidence of such practices right from the arresting stage and first contact with the police to the sentencing phase. Even though the primary determinants In handling a case depends on such factors as the severity of the offence and the offenders' prior record, empirical evidence suggest black and Hispanic males, particularly the young and unemployed were more likely than similar white offenders to be sentenced to prisons, receive longer sentences and to obtain fewer benefits from departures from the sentencing guidelines. At the arresting phase, research dating back to the 1960s demonstrated the existence of particularly hostile and abrasive relationship between the police and the minorities, especially in ghetto communities. Police brutality was noted in a study of shootings in Memphis city to result in the killing of more African American suspects than whites in the 'unarmed and not assaultive category" for example, pointing towards a discriminatory pattern by the police (Mauer, 1990). A look at juvenile justice system also revealed that the higher informality and flexibility allowed in dealing with such cases created room for abuse of discretion by the police. Although the average white teen was three times more likely to be arrested than the average black teens for example, those of the minority races were found to be three times more likely to be formally charged and waived off a juvenile court than their white counterparts, a majority of who were more likely to be ordered to probation and served less severe punishments as doing community service (Meeker et al. 1992).Racial discrimination, as seen from numerous empirical studies dating back to early 1970 was demonstrated to exist in cases involving capital sentencing. The omission of methodological limitations that existed before the 1870s such as information on one's relative culpability, prior records and the heinousness of the crime committed has aggravated the severity and occurrences of such cases in the recent times. As a result of this, an African American and members of other minority groups are more likely to receive the death sentence than a white offender. Research evidence shows that of all the offenders who received death sentences since its reintroduction in 1977; the white made up 49%, blacks an astonishing 41%, Hispanic 9% and those from other races made a total of 2%. A look at capital cases further suggests that African Americans who murdered whites were at a higher risk of receiving the death penalty regardless of the circumstances than any other ethnic group member who killed a black (Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System, 2007).
From the study, it is evident that racial bias exists in various forms and at different phases of the criminal justice in the U.S both at the federal and state levels. This bias is mostly vested and propagated against the African American ethnic group, and to some extent, the other minority ethnic groups living in the U.S. At the greatest disadvantage are those belonging to lower income groups and those living in impoverished and segregated neighborhoods. Clearly, more needs to be done to address this issue and ensure that the rule of law and constitution applies to all members of the society in an equal manner, and justice for all is guaranteed.
Alliance, D. P. (2016). The drug war, mass incarceration and race. February https://www. drugpolicy. org/sites/default/files/DPA% 20Fact% 20Sheet_Drug% 20War% 20Mass% 20Incarceration% 20and% 20Race_ (Feb.% 202016). pdf.
Mauer, M. (1990). Young Black Men and the Criminal Justice System: A Growing National Problem.
Meeker, J. W., Jesilow, P., & Aranda, J. (1992). Bias in sentencing: A preliminary analysis of community service sentences. Behavioral sciences & the law, 10(2), 197-206.
Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System. (2007) (pp. 1-32). Retrieved from http://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/images/press/docs/pdf/ASARaceCrime.pdf
Rehavi, M. M., & Starr, S. B. (2014). Racial disparity in federal criminal sentences. Journal of Political Economy, 122(6), 1-30. Retrieved from https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2413&context=articles
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