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Race in the Criminal Justice System

Abstract

Punishing and preventing conducts of crime form a part of the government’s primary obligation. However, the government at all levels must uphold a principle of equality before the law. It helps ensure that all individuals are not subjected to unjust accusation or treatment by the law enforcers. However, it is sad that irrespectively of the laws and policies the governments put in place, there have been the cases where innocent people were suspected or even held accountable for a crime they had not committed. It has been happening both knowingly and unknowingly in the United States. It has been because of the role such factors as race have increasingly played in the determination of those who should be arrested, sentenced, and given a fair trial. This paper examines the role of race in a criminal justice system.

Role of Race in the Criminal Justice System

According to Banks (2004), race can be defined as a group of people who are relatively alike when considered on the basis of their biological inheritance. Any race is also distinct from any other group. He emphasizes that people’s race should never be a basis of how certain people are treated in any country. Its origin stems from social construction. It is also developed based on the belief of the existence of a biological basis upon which groups of people could be categorized. Though used as a social category, race has no biological meaning. It has gained popularity during the onset of the slave trade when the whites believed that they were superior to the blacks. Currently, an effect of racism is evidenced in the criminal justice system of many countries especially the United States. It is exhibited in various ways: personal prejudice, institutional racisms, and ideological racism. The country’s criminal system has been marred with law enforcement agencies that are functioning. They are being influenced by the belief that some races are less superior compared to others based on their culture and biological characteristics.

Role of Race in Issuing Death Penalties

Racial discrimination as witnessed in the US criminal justice system has gone to the following extent. Some people have believed that the country has two separate justice systems, one for the poor and racial minorities; and the other one – for affluent Whites. There have been controversies on the way in which death penalties, racial profiling, and juvenile justice system’s disparate treatment of minorities, police brutality as well as sentencing is done (Union for Reform Judaism, 2011). Generally, it is agreeable that racial discrimination violates the principle of equality upon which the US law is based. The concept demands equality in the treatment of people being equal based on their similarities without any consideration of race (Russel-Brown, 2009).

Union for Reform and Judaism (2011) notes that the statistical evidence like the one compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center has showed that there was a disproportionate representation of the African-American men among the people being in a death row. The same was the case when those ones executed from 1911 to 2011 had been considered.

Banks (2004) adds that whenever the type of homicide is put under control, race remains a major factor in the seeking of the death penalty together with its imposition by the prosecutor. It will largely be influenced by race. He notes that both the race of an offender and that of a victim significantly determine how willing the prosecutor will be to seek the death penalty. It also influences how willing the jurors and the judges will be to impose such punishment. It has continued over some time. According to Banks (2004), the black offenders being convicted of murdering white victims are more likely to receive a capital punishment sentence. On the other hand, those who are convicted of having murdered a black victim are less likely to be given a death penalty irrespectively of their races. The same thing has been revealed with Hispanic victims who are also highly eligible for homicide just like the blacks.

The discrimination has also been reflected in some opinions of the blacks and that of the whites related to the views they hold on the death penalty. In the study conducted in 2002, only 42.1 percent of the blacks supported the penalty compared to 69.8 percent of the Whites. A part of the reason why the disparity has continued to exist was racial prejudice. It was a major reason why most whites were in support of a form of punishment. Banks (2004) observes that the effect is even more than doubled in the counties that are more racially integrated.

Discriminatory Profiling

Union for Reform Judaism (2011) identifies a discriminatory profiling as another part of the major factors. These ones have greatly contributed to the disparity among the races in as far as the punishment and prosecution is concerned. Profiling is a method that has been in use for decades in the determination of individuals to be stopped and searched. It is done in the event that the law enforcers have not been able to identify the real suspects whenever any crime has been carried out. The discriminatory profiling is worsened by the fact that traffic offenses, which can be cited as guiding the stops and searches, are lacking. One of the judges serving in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals once wrote, “It is clear […] that American Africans are stopped by the police in disproportionate numbers” (Union for Reform Judaism, 2011). The police statistics in Maryland has indicated that of all the cars that were stopped and searched between Delaware and Baltimore within a period of two years, 73% were being driven by African Americans. It was a high level of disparity since only 14% of all those driving on the stretch were Blacks. Of the searches, 70 percent yielded absolutely nothing. The same practice still continues in other states like New Jersey.

Johnson and Heilman (2001) add that minorities are most likely to face arrest upon being stopped. They have reported the findings of the study done in Minneapolis. It has revealed that of those being stopped, blacks are about 2.5 times more likely to suffer arrest and be booked than whites. In fact, the likelihood was 3 times for the American Indians. The two ones also observe that the minorities are also 7 times likely to be arrested for felony-level-crimes compared to Whites. This disparity is even wider when African Americans are considered. In Minneapolis, it has been revealed that African Americans, who provided the false information, were 35 times more likely to be arrested compared to their White counterparts. The whites were 27 times less likely to face arrest as a result of lurking and 19 times for trespassing as well as 10 times for conducting themselves in a disorderly manner compared to the blacks. Additionally, blacks are 19 times more likely to be imprisoned for the same crimes committed by blacks and whites.

Role of Race in Sentencing

Union for Reform Judaism (2011) identifies another justice process characterized by high level of racial disparity as sentencing. The union notes that irrespectively of the fact that African Americans only contribute 12% to the total population of the country and 13 percent of those using drugs in the country, they contribute 38 percent of people being arrested for having engaged in various drug-related offenses. The Black-Americans also contribute 59 percent of those who are convicted of drug-related offenses, as well as 63 percent of those who suffer conviction of having engaged in the trafficking of drugs. The finding from the study has been also echoed by that of another study conducted in Seattle. It was to establish a relationship between drug deliveries related arrests and race (Banks, 2004). The study has found out that these have been the whites who deliver most drugs. Blacks, though were the majority, were delivering a single drug, crack cocaine. Some examples of drugs delivered by the whites were cocaine and heroin. Irrespectively of this disparity, blacks still formed 64% of the arrests targeted at those involved in the delivery of other drugs apart from crack cocaine. The study has also revealed that the drug markets where the whites were operating have received a relatively less concern from the law enforcement officers. They have been compared to the markets dominated by racially diverse groups in Seattle City. The study has concluded that the perception of what and who constitute drug-related problems in Seattle was largely shaped by race.

The Union for Reform Judaism (2011) has noted that convicted African Americans have to serve for longer terms than their white counterparts. Equally, African Americans convicted of drug-related offenses have high chances of being sentenced to prison. Moreover, there is the disproportionate incarceration of minorities contributed by the disparity in how the users of powder and crack cocaine are treated. However, it is disputed by Banks (2009) who argues that in the aggregate, fewer blacks are convicted in comparison to the whites. After reviewing numerous studies conducted for the National Academy of Sciences, the researcher has reached a conclusion that sentencing disposition was largely affected by prior records of crimes and not a race. He has emphasized that whenever sentencing is based on past criminal records, it is possible to completely eliminate the direct racial disparity. He has seen the disparity in sentencing as arising from the fact that the minorities are disproportionately represented in the officially processed criminal conduct. In turn, the effect of this was evident in more serious or longer prior criminal records. However, they also seemed to agree that cumulatively race can affect sentencing by its operations through additional factors. They put the minority people in a disadvantaged position. Such factors included initial arrests (Streib, 2007).

Role of Race in Juvenile Justice

Another area in which the racial discrimination has been evidenced in the juvenile justice. The Union for Reform Judaism (2011) observes that it has been evident even despite legislations, which have been passed to help in quitting the discrimination in juvenile confinement. Most of juveniles confined are those who are the minority groups. The study conducted between 2001 and 1011 had showed that youths belonging to the African-American groups, between the age of 10 and 17, were 2 times more likely to suffer arrest and 7 times more likely to suffer detention compared to the Caucasian youths. It was because the rate at which African-American juveniles were confined for any given offense was relatively high compared to that of their white counterparts. The latter ones were convicted of the same crimes. Equally, there was the discrimination in the rate at which African-Americans were referred to the criminal courts meant for adult people. It means that they were treated as adults for both sentencing and trial purposes. Law enforcers are never required by the law to utilize numerical quotas or arrest or release based on race any juvenile who has been put under custody. Thus, there is a need to analyze any case of the disproportionate minority confinement whenever it has been found to exist.

Racial Discrimination in a Normal Encounter between the Police and Citizens

Racial discrimination is also exhibited whenever policemen encounter citizens and in the way in which arrest-related decisions are made. The study conducted by Whisner (2013) shows that there is a possibility of a decision by the police to make arrests as influenced by the racial origins of the people they serve. The studies have shown that a neighborhood context can influence whether or not the police will decide to carry out an arrest or utilize force. In most cases, the minority and racially mixed neighborhoods face more arrests, the use of force, and threats from policemen. Equally, interactions in which black suspects and black officers are involved are more likely to lead to an arrest compared to that between white suspects and black officers.

In terms of the relative number of blacks who get involved in the criminal suspects’ shooting by the police, there has been a high probability of the police shooting blacks than whites. However, it has been because the blacks are normally disproportionately involved in such armed incidences as those involving shooting. However, the finding in Memphis was in contrast with these findings. It has showed that these were the whites more likely to take part in armed incidents. Irrespectively of this, more blacks were being disproportionately shot by the police as they attempted to flee away. Fyfe has concluded that the use of the deadly force by the Memphis police was largely depended on the suspect’s race (Banks, 2004).

The Role of Race in Issuing of Bail

Racial discrimination is also revealed in the way in which bail is given to suspects. Normally, the decision of whether a suspect can be released on bail is left to the discretion of judges and prosecutors. The major factors that are normally applied by most courts include how dangerous a suspect is to the community as well as the possibility that the suspect will run away. The court is also expected to consider once employment, the length of residence at the place, and marital status. Though certain studies have ruled out the influence of race in a process of making decisions related to bail, the two ones are related in a number of other ways. For instance, Banks (2004) reports the study, which has found out that defendants being less educated and having low-income levels were more likely to be given onerous terms of bail. In fact, they were less likely to obtain bail. The study has also found out white defendants having acquired the same level of education and earning the same amount of income with a similar background as the blacks were more likely to obtain the court bail. Equally, the bail application process was harder on the blacks than the whites since their initial criminal records counted more than the case with the white defendants. However, the seriousness of the particular offense as well as the level of danger a suspect poses to the community has counted more in the case of white defendants than for black defendants.

Racial Discrimination and Selection of Jury

Such cases as that of Strauder v. West Virginia, which was judged 1880, have led to the tracking down of a statute setting apart jury services to the white. However, other states have continued to uphold the legality of having all-white juries. A good example was in Delaware where the jury was required to have registered as a taxpayer and to be judicious and sober. These were the conditions met by most African Americans. However, Banks (2004) observes that it was never easy for them to be selected based on the argument that just very few African Americans in this state were experienced, moral, and intelligent enough to be competent jurors. However, the practice has been later ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. However, a number of states still go through some procedures which discriminate against the minorities while selecting jury pools. Such practices as using the list of registered voters or property tax rolls while obtaining the names of the potential jurors should be applied (Banks, 2004).

Conclusion

In conclusion, institutional racism, which is directly linked to what happens in the country’s criminal justice system, involves the production of continuous and systematic differences between different racial groups through the way in which practices and policies are applied. Thus, racism has led to the discrimination in the way arrests, bails, the selection of a jury, sentencing, and death penalties are issued in the country’s justice system.

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