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Criminal Justice System is Unfair to People of Color: College Essay Examples

The United States has made significant progress in its criminal justice system. However, racial disparities are still highly prevalent with minorities being the most affected; particularly, African Americans. The essay writer research paper examines the unfairness of the criminal justice system to people of color. It reviews various levels of the criminal justice system and explains how each has played a role in promoting racial disparities. Here, the paper argues that various practices, policies, and decision-makers in the US’s criminal justice system have supported the stereotypic associations that have, in turn, led to the unfair treatment of minorities. The research paper reviews bias by decision-makers, discriminatory criminal justice policies and practices, the expression of concern by African Americans, treatment by the police, parole decisions, sentencing, and right to vote.

Keywords: Disparities, racism, crime, correctional, unfairness

Criminal Justice System is Unfair to People of Color

America’s criminal justice system is associated with a startling impact on people of color as they are often targeted through disproportional arrests, sentencing, and incarcerations compared to white people that commit the same crimes. The United States criminal justice system is considered the world’s largest at it registers the highest number of people in correctional control every year. For instance, the country’s correctional facilities had approximately 6.7 million people at the end of 2015. The country leads the world in the number of incarcerations with almost double the number of every nation. Despite these broad statistics, racial disparities permeate the country’s criminal justice system as people of color; particularly, African Americans register high numbers of people in the US correctional facilities despite being minorities. Unlike Whites, African Americans have a high likelihood of being arrested, convicted, and given long sentences. It means that Africans Americans struggle with getting the US criminal justice system and this is why it is considered unfair to people of color. The paper will examine how this criminal justice system discriminates against people of color by considering various key points such as pretrial services, trial, and sentencing. While the criminal justice system has achieved significant progress in the equal treatment of all citizens in the past decades, its operations disadvantage people of color because more African Americans are represented in the criminal justice system, people of color face longer sentences, and parole decisions are more favorable to white people than African Americans.

Bias by Decision Makers in the Criminal Justice System

Bias depicted by decision-makers in the criminal justice system disadvantages people of color. According to Dunnaville, Jr. (2000), the bias in the criminal justice system is evident in all levels as every stage of the process is marred by the unequal treatment of minorities. African Americans and Hispanics experience systematic unequal treatment regularly and this usually demonstrates how biased the criminal justice system’s decision-makers are as Whites are never treated the same as minorities. The bias in the criminal justice system is deeply rooted such that it has continued over the years despite the efforts to reform this system (Hetey & Eberhardt, 2018). For instance, the treatment of minorities and Whites by decision-makers in the criminal justice system differs right from the first stage that involves investigations conducted by law enforcement officers. It is common to witness minorities, particularly, African Americans being detained by police officers on the street despite not being involved in any criminal activity. It should be noted that the bias is evident considering that Whites that are the majority use these roads yet most of the police stops usually involve African Americans. The situation depicts how deeply rooted the problem is as there has been a notion established regarding African Americans. Due to the bias, African Americans end up being targeted by decision-makers in various levels of the country’s criminal justice system. They are forced to endure humiliation and in some instances, loss of privacy because some perceptions have been formed about them by these decision-makers. While a significant number of Whites use roads, many of the people that are stopped by the police are African Americans and this demonstrates how race plays a vital role among the decision-makers at this level of the criminal justice system. It suggests that most of the police officers use skin color as the criteria for stopping people on the roads and this usually leads to humiliation and inconvenience on the part of the minorities.

Also, the bias among decision-makers in the criminal justice system is usually evident during police investigations and interrogations as the tactics employed for African Americans differ with those employed for Whites. In most cases, African Americans are exposed to tactics capable of shocking the conscience and officers do not deal with Whites in the same way. Also, for many policymakers and politicians in the country, lawlessness is considered a “colored” problem and it is usually justified to treat African Americans the way they are treated by law enforcement officers. The perception is a clear depiction of the existence of bias and unequal standards regarding the treatment of African Americans and Whites. Therefore, the existence of bias among decision-makers in the criminal justice system demonstrates that people of color, specifically, African Americans are being treated unfairly compared to their White counterparts who are rarely humiliated by these decision-makers.

Discriminatory Criminal Justice Policies and Practices

African Americans have been unfairly targeted by discriminatory criminal justice policies and practices since the Reconstruction Era. According to Clear, Cole, and Reisig, (2009), the abolishment of slavery in 1865 led to the introduction of criminal justice as the ideal way to attain racial control in Southern states. Many African Americans became victims of discriminatory codes that were established in these states and this led to the return of slaver-like conditions for these numerous African Americans. For instance, criminal laws were introduced to deal with Civil Rights protestors as these laws considered them lawbreakers who needed to be arrested and prosecuted. While the protests earned many victories in the country, no clear policies were established to deal with the country’s criminal justice system that still used the laws that encouraged racial inequality. The same has not changed today in the US as various discriminatory policies and practices still exist. The mass incarcerations in the country can be considered as a legacy to past discriminatory policies that targeted the US’s minorities. The targeting of crimes, which most minorities are disproportionally arrested for by the criminal justice policies, has led to the unfair treatment of people of color. For instance, policies such as “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” were introduced to target minorities in the country, as these are some of the leading causes of massive arrests of African Americans. Policies and laws that were enacted in the past decades such as the mandatory minimum sentence, life without the possibility of parole, truth-in-sentencing, and three strikes exacerbated the massive African American imprisonment. These policies and laws mandated severe punishments for offenses that were commonly committed by minorities and this explains why there is a large number of African Americans in the US prisons. In consideration of the population of African Americans in the US compared to Whites, it is unreasonable to have higher numbers of African Americans in US prisons yet Whites also commit various crimes that are punishable by law. A review of numerous reasons why African Americans are arrested for being involved in crime confirms that various social factors play an important role, most of which have not been addressed by the government’s authorities. These factors include social disadvantage, limited life chances, and neighborhood residence among others. It means that despite the knowledge of these factors, the criminal justice system continues to target African Americans and this is the reason they are arrested on numerous occasions compared to Whites. Therefore, it can be concluded that the US criminal justice system focused on policies and practices that targeted minorities, especially, African Americans and this justifies the high incarceration rate among this racial group. It means that through these practices and policies aimed at giving harsh punishments to specific offenders, the criminal justice system is encouraging unfairness regarding the treatment of African Americans yet their White counterparts also commit crimes.

Expression of Concern by African Americans

African Americans express more concern about the criminal justice system compared to their white counterparts. According to Free (1996), the views of African Americans and their white counterparts differ greatly regarding the country’s criminal justice system. While most African Americans believe that the country’s criminal justice discriminates against them, the same opinion is not shared by the Whites. According to these African Americans, there is a need to reform the country’s criminal justice system as it works against them at all levels. A research conducted by Pew Research Center found that approximately 87% of the adult African American respondents believed that the country’s criminal justice system worked against them while only 61% of white adults shared the same belief (The Sentencing Project, 2018). Moreover, a survey regarding the treatment of racial minorities in the country as a problem in the US indicated that 79% of African Americans believed so while only 32% of whites agreed. The significant difference in the number of African Americans and Whites that believe that the criminal justice system is working against minorities shows the difference in views between these ethnic groups. While African Americans view the treatment of minorities by the criminal justice system as a concern, the same is not shared by a good number of whites.

The racial differences in views regarding the functioning of America’s criminal justice system demonstrate that there is a significant problem with the country’s justice system as the racial groups that are targeted by it consider it a problem in waiting for the country while those that are not targeted, the White majority, do not see any problem with the justice system. Since African Americans record the highest number of people in the country’s correctional facilities, their concern demonstrates that they are unfairly targeted by the country’s criminal justice system despite being minorities (Mauer, 2010). As expected, there is no justification for minorities contributing to a high number of people in correctional facilities while the majority population also has offenders. Despite both ethnic groups having a significant number of offenders, African Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. While this is evident from the number of offenders in the country’s correctional facilities, there are differences in views of the criminal justice system regarding its perceived fairness and this is informed by double standards. While there is clear evidence that the African American population is overrepresented in the criminal justice system, the White majority does not consider this a concern and this leads to various questions regarding the treatment of people of color in the United States. The difference in views despite clear evidence demonstrates how deeply rooted racial disparities are in American society. Therefore, the difference in views regarding the treatment of minorities by the criminal justice system despite the existence of data suggesting the overrepresentation of African Americans demonstrates the role racism plays in American society. It means that African Americans are unfairly targeted by the country’s criminal justice institutions yet the majority population has failed to acknowledge this.

Treatment by the Police

Pronounced differences exist regarding the treatment of African Americans and Whites by the police. According to The Sentencing Project (2018), there are pronounced differences between African Americans and whites regarding their views on questions related to the work done by police officers and their treatment by the police. A survey that was conducted in 2017 to gauge how Americans rate the work of police officers in the country using a scale of 0 to 100 indicated that Whites gave the officers a rating of 72 while African Americans gave them a rating of 47 (The Sentencing Project, 2018). The stark contrast regarding the view of African Americans and Whites regarding the job of police officers demonstrates a problem with this level of the criminal justice system. For many African Americans, the police do not do their jobs accordingly as they discriminate against them, which is never the case with Whites. The police interactions with African Americans in their communities have been cited to be marred by violence and this is not the same in police interactions with Whites in their communities. According to The Sentencing Project (2018), there are disproportionate levels of police contact with minorities and this is never the same with Whites. Despite data suggesting that all races commit crime at equal rates, the number of African Americans arrested by the police surpasses those of Whites. In most cases, these police officers use the fight against drugs as the excuse for arresting African Americans despite understanding that their social conditions largely contribute to their high involvement in a crime. For the past decades, there has been a belief that African Americans commit more crime than Whites and this has led to the deployment of a large number of police officers in their neighborhoods, which is never the case with white neighborhoods. While there are no clear efforts to address societal segregation, there has been a continued investment in the police force to deal with the high crime rates in African American neighborhoods and this means that these minorities remain a target by the country’s police officers. Various policing policies in the country have enhanced the interaction between African Americans and the police such as “Stop, Question, and Frisk,” “The War on Drugs,” and “Broken Windows” (The Sentencing Project, 2018). It means that even the innocent people in these communities have higher levels of police contact and possible arrests based on the high frequency of contact.

African Americans are more likely to be stopped by the police compared to Whites. According to Hetey and Eberhardt (2018), police officers in the US were found to conduct stops discriminatively as more African Americans were stopped compared to Whites. The stops mostly involved African Americans because they were associated with crime and this has largely contributed to the high number of African American incarcerations in the country (Gordon, 2002). Additionally, recent studies and reports reveal that African American drivers are more likely to stopped, searched, and arrested compared to white drivers. It is because of police officers’ use of officer discretion in a biased way. Therefore, in most cases, African Americans are always targeted because of the belief that they are highly likely to be involved in crime. In most cases, the causes of the stops conducting by police officers differ by race. However, there are staggering racial disparities in the number of police stops involving African Americans in several jurisdictions. Therefore, this points to the existence of racial bias in the application of officer discretion. In most cases, minorities are often stopped by police officers for investigatory stops rather than traffic-safety stops. Therefore, the treatment of African Americans by police officers indicate the unfairness of the criminal justice system to people of color as their white counterparts are not stopped as frequently as them by the police.

Parole Decisions

Parole decisions in the criminal justice system are more favorable to Whites compared to their African American counterparts. According to Free (2003), various reforms have been placed to help in transforming parole in the criminal justice system; however, there is still evidence that some parole decisions are disproportionate. A review of parole in the criminal justice system reveals that whites get more favorable parole decisions compared to African Americans despite committing the same crime. The era of mass incarceration led to a decline in the population of people that would access discretionary release on parole. It was because of the call by lawmakers to have fixed-term sentences in place of indeterminate sentences. Mauer (2010) believes that people of color deal with hard situations regarding discretionary parole release as parole boards considered race in making their determinations. It meant that African Americans were given stricter parole terms compared to Whites because of the belief that they were likely to be involved in crime. Just as other levels of criminal justice, parole decisions given by parole boards are largely determined by race and this is why many parole decisions favor Whites more than African Americans. The parole boards not only consider race in making their decisions but are also influenced by racial bias among correctional officers that deal with offenders. Since African Americans are usually targeted by the criminal justice system in most cases, they usually end up becoming divergent while in the correctional facilities and this means that end up with bad prison disciplinary records making them not to be considered for favorable parole decisions. It is also evident that community supervision is also characterized by racial disparities whereby many parole and probation systems offer significant support to white offenders compared to African Americans. With little support, the likelihood of the parole terms being violated by African Americans is high and this means that the parole will possibly be revoked. Probation revocation rates in the country were high among African Americans compared to Whites and this suggests the existence of bias regarding the treatment of these racial groups by the criminal justice system. Therefore, unfair parole decisions given by the parole boards when it comes to African Americans have clouded the progress achieved in the past years regarding the transformation of this aspect of the criminal justice system.

Sentencing

African Americans face longer sentences compared to Whites. Walker, Spohn, and DeLone (2018) state that various studies conducted in the past have confirmed the existence of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system regarding the sentencing of offenders. For instance, when white and African American men commit the same crime, the likelihood of the white offenders getting shorter sentences compared to African Americans is higher and this has been the case always (Petersilia, 1983). On average, the sentencing that African Americans get despite committing the same crime with whites is 20% longer. It demonstrates how race comes into play in sentencing; thereby, depicting the lack of fairness in the criminal justice system. Despite having the same rights as American citizens, the sentencing that African Americans get demonstrates the existence of racial bias in the US criminal justice system. It is always the case for African Americans to get longer sentences despite the consideration of various factors that may come into play such as prior criminal history, age, education, weapon possession, and citizenship. It means that there is no other aspect considered in the passing of the sentences except race. The race of offenders; therefore, plays an important role as whites are better placed because they get shorter sentences than their African American counterparts despite committing the same crime. Reports conducted in recent years suggest that the disparities in sentencing have increased as more African Americans are being given harsher sentences compared to whites. Investigations done by the Sentencing Commission have revealed that the disparities in sentences are due to choices made by the judges involved at their discretion. It means that many of America’s judges are informed by racial prejudice and this is why most sentences are harsh for African Americans. Also, studies conducted in the past reveal that most judges in the US are less likely to revise sentences given to African American offenders compared to white offenders and this shows that racial prejudice comes into play in the sentencing decisions made by judges. The giving of judges more discretion on the sentences to pass has allowed the seeping of racial bias in the criminal justice process and this is the reason many African Americans end up with longer sentences despite committing the same crimes with whites.

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Racial dynamics play a vital role in the criminal justice system regarding the passing of sentences and this has been the case for a longstanding duration. While many courts in the US have attempted to become more diverse by having minorities as judges, race still plays an essential role in the sentence outcomes given in these institutions (Hetey & Eberhardt, 2018). The involvement of judges from the minorities has done little to change the narrative regarding the giving of African Americans longer sentences compared to Whites despite committing the same crime. Despite committing serious crimes that could merit a death penalty, it is common for whites to be given fair sentences while their African counterparts that have committed the same crime are given the death penalty. Discussions on the death penalty in the US have demonstrated the race divide in the country as a significant number of whites support the death penalty compared to African Americans. For instance, a 2018 survey revealed that approximately 59% of whites support the death penalty while only 36% of African-Americans support it (The Sentencing Project, 2018). The significant support for the death penalty has been translated to court outcomes involving capital crimes where African Americans have been given the death penalty while their white counterparts are given less harsh sentences despite committing the same crime. Therefore, racially discriminatory outcomes are common in the criminal justice system and this is largely due to the manifestation of racism in the country’s justice wing, with judges being involved. In particular, these judges are guided by racial bias to deliver these discriminatory rulings that are unfair to people of color. While there are no justifications for longer sentences among African Americans that have committed the same crimes as whites, it is evident that race is the main consideration in the delivery of these rulings. Therefore, African Americans face longer sentences than their white counterparts because of racism that is deeply rooted in the country’s criminal justice system.

Right to Vote

African Americans that have been incarcerated have higher chances to lose their right to vote compared to Whites. According to Walker, Spohn, and DeLone (2018), African Americans are more exposed to the collateral consequences of committing a crime in the US compared to their white counterparts. For instance, in 2010, 33% of African Americans had a felony conviction while only 8% of American adults had the same conviction (The Sentencing Project, 2018). In most cases, criminal records usually have various consequences on a person as they have to deal with various obstacles in their bid to reenter society. Some of these include the struggle to get steady employment and housing, getting federal student aid, and exercising the right to vote. While there are differences in laws in states regarding allowing people convicted with a felony to vote, most of them allow people with such convictions to lose their right to vote. Most of these laws usually target African Americans as they lead in the number of felony convictions. It has been determined that the social conditions of minorities play an important role in encouraging their involvement in a crime. Therefore, by depriving felony convicts the right to vote, these states are simply absconding their duties of providing better social conditions and promoting racial prejudice as the victims often end up to be African Americans. The unfairness of the criminal justice system to people of color is evident in the laws that prevent people convicted of a felony from exercising their constitutional right to vote as African Americans are usually the target because they are considered to be associated more with crime compared to whites.

In conclusion, despite achieving significant progress regarding the equal treatment of all citizens in the past decades, America’s criminal justice system disadvantages people of color as they are overrepresented compared to their white counterparts, face longer sentences, and face unfavorable parole decisions. African Americans often end up being targeted by decision-makers in various levels of the country’s criminal justice system. They are forced to endure humiliation, and in some instances, loss of privacy because some perception has been formed about them by these decision-makers. The targeting of crimes, which most minorities are disproportionally arrested for by the criminal justice policies, has led to the unfair treatment of people of color. For instance, policies such as “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” were introduced to target minorities in the country, as these are some of the leading causes of massive arrests of African Americans. The significant difference in the number of African Americans and Whites that believe that the criminal justice system is working against minorities shows the difference in views between these ethnic groups. Police officers use the fight against drugs as the excuse for arresting African Americans despite understanding that their social conditions largely contribute to their high involvement in a crime. A review of parole in the criminal justice system reveals that whites get more favorable parole decisions compared to African Americans despite committing the same crime. Despite committing the same crime, African Americans are usually given longer sentences compared to whites and this demonstrates the unfairness of the criminal justice system to people of color. The exercise of the right to vote has also demonstrated how the country’s criminal justice is unfair to African Americans as they are usually targeted by laws that strip them off the right to vote. The causes of racial disparities in America’s criminal justice system appear to be deeply rooted and complex. Various policies can be considered to help deal with the situation so that fairness is attained in the criminal justice system. There is a need for more research on the policies that would help eliminate racial disparities in the US criminal justice system.

References

Clear, T. R., Cole, G. F., & Reisig, M. D. (2009). American corrections. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Dunnaville, Jr., C.M. (2000). Unequal justice under the law— Racial inequities in the justice system. Virginia Lawyer, 20-25. https://www.vsb.org/docs/valawyermagazine/dec00dunnaville.pdf

Free, M.D. (1996). African Americans and the criminal justice system. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.

Free, M. D. (2003). Racial issues in criminal justice: The case of African Americans. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Gordon, J. U. (2002). The black male in white America. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Hetey, R. C., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2018). The numbers don’t speak for themselves: Racial disparities and the persistence of inequality in the criminal justice system. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(3), 183-187. DOI:10.1177/0963721418763931

Mauer, M. (2010). Justice for All? Challenging Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System. Human Rights, 37(4), 14-16. DOI: 10.2307/23032406

Petersilia, J. (1983). Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System. National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS). Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/127137NCJRS.pdf

The Sentencing Project. (2018). Report to the United Nations on racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project. Retrieved from https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/UN-Report-on-Racial-Disparities.pdf

Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (2018). The color of justice: Race, ethnicity, and crime in America (6th Ed.). Boston MA: Cengage Learning.

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Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.
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