Racial Disparities in America’s Judicial System The mandatory imprisonment policies written for the judicial system are creating disparity of minority inmate population primarily due to non-violent drug crimes and the unjust mandatory minimum sentencing laws. America’s prisons are the most populated in the world, and they are disproportionately populated by minorities due to the set of mandatory imprisonment policies set in place. Over the past five decades, the disparity between races has widened dramatically according to the National Center on Institutions.
In the 1950’s, blacks and Hipics were the minorities in the prison system, whereas today whites are. Is this due to poverty? I’m sure poverty plays a big role in most cases. Robert Woodson Jr. , president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise said the reason young men engage in criminal activity is not just for money, it is to make a name for themselves, to have some expression of worth, even if the expression is self-destructive. Crack cocaine hit the streets in the early 1980’s, infesting the lower income areas.
It’s a cheap drug compared to cocaine and easier to come by than some of the higher priced drugs. Is this considered racial disparity? The Sentencing Project in 2007 states that two-thirds of the regular crack users are white and Latino, 82 percent of defendants sentenced in federal court for crack offences are African-American. Criminologist William Chambliss suggest that blacks are more frequently viewed as suspects, pulled over and targeted by raids. I think racial profiling involving law enforcement plays a bigger role in the disparities than people give them credit for.
It begins with law enforcement, and ends with the judicial system. In a survey conducted in Volusia County Florida involving traffic stops, it showed 70 percent of those stopped were black or Hipic according to a Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole. Thus showing how we have accumulated a disparity in America’s prison system. Racial disparity in the judicial 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 as defined by The Sentencing Project.
The incarceration rate in state or federal prison or jail for black men was 4,789 per 100,000, for Hipic men 1,862 per 100,000, and white men 736 per 100,000 (Sabol, William 2006). Black men comprised 41 percent of the more than 2 million men in custody midyear of 2006, according to The US Department of Justice. As a result of the war on drugs thousands of non-violent drug offenders, most of them black or Hipic, received mandatory minimum prison sentences for possession of small quantities of illegal drugs. Police look for crimes in the ghetto, and that’s where they find them” (Chambliss, William). In turn, this caused an even bigger problem of over population in the correctional institutions. “Approximately 80% of the prison overcrowding from 1985 to 1995 is a direct result of the mandatory minimum sentencing policy of the get tough on crime movement” (Drug policy alliance network, 2010) . A non-violent drug crime can carry a minimum mandatory sentencing of fifteen years, whereas a case of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death carries a maximum of five years.
If argued by an attorney the drug case can be reduced to a five year minimum mandatory, and the accident involving a death can be reduced to thirty months with no minimum mandatory. These two cases are cases I know of personally. State of Florida verses Fabian Rivera, 2012. Fabian is a family friend, he received a five year mandatory sentence for selling $600. 00 worth of cocaine to an undercover police officer. Later to find out he was set up by a high school friend. State of Florida verses Andrew Cleaver, 2012.
Andrew was driving under the influence of alcohol when he lost control of his vehicle, killing a friend of mine. Andrew ran from the scene, went home and went to sleep. Two years after the accident, Andrew pled guilty of leaving a scene of an accident and received thirty months in prison. In both cases, each took a plea deal that would reduce their sentences. The sentencing guidelines in both cases are way off in my opinion, leaving me to believe first hand that it is unjust sentencing. This is just an example to show that drug crimes receive a higher prison penalty.
According to the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2011 there were an estimated 197,050 individuals sentenced to prison under federal jurisdiction on December 31, 2011. Of these sentenced, 14,900 were incarcerated for violent offenses. An estimated 10,700 were for property offences, and 94,600 were incarcerated on this date for drug offences. In most states, drug offenses have a higher sentencing causing a disparity among inmate population due to the mandatory minimum guidelines. The mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes should be abolished.
Treatment and rehabilitation efforts should be looked at more seriously which would drastically reduce the minority prison population. The high cost of incarceration while fighting the war on drugs, show that money would be better spent on shorter sentencing, drug rehabilitation programs, and possibly an educational trade program (The Rand’s Drug Research Center). The extreme measures of the judicial system practices in sentencing causes greater stress on a society when one person reaches their release date from prison.
Given the figures on high rates of Blacks and Latinos in the prison system today, many of today’s crime control policies fundamentally impede the economic, political and social advancement of the most disadvantaged blacks and minority groups. Prison leaves them less likely to find gainful employment, vote, participate in other civic activities and maintain ties with their families and communities (Gottschalk, 2008, p. A15). Without knowledge, education, and social abilities inmates upon release from prison will continue a life of crime. It is a viscous circle that it almost impossible to escape.
When an individual enters the criminal justice system, it is a program that is difficult to get out of. Career criminals are referred to as being institutionalized, making it difficult to conduct oneself in the real world. Education is a key to successful release and integration. Inmates who learn to read and write and those who gain a skill are far more likely to succeed upon release. Those who do not are more likely to re-offend and end up back in prison according to the California Department of Corrections. The criminal mentality is simple.
It is easier to go out on the streets to sell drugs, make fast money and spend the rest of the day sitting on the couch watching television verses going to work a 9 to 5 job in a factory. Without education, you will be lucky to find a factory job that pays minimum wage. In most households today, a family cannot live off of a minimum wage, which in the mind of a criminal gives justification to sell drugs. California department of corrections is a great example of educating individuals to prevent repeat offenders. This also allows offenders the opportunity of employment upon release from prison. One adult in every 100 is currently in prison. The annual budget for U. S. prisons come to $50 billion. The situation is particularly bad among young black males; about 11 percent of young black men are in prison” (Rees-Mog, 2008). If it makes sense to educate inmates and save money while doing so, why not make education mandatory instead of minimum mandatory sentences? It’s a win win situation with tax payers’ and the department of education. One million dollars spent on correctional education prevents about 600 crimes, while that same money invested in incarceration prevents 350 crimes.
Correctional education is almost twice as cost-effective as a crime control policy according to Audrey Bozos of the UCLA school of Public Policy and Social Research. How can we change or remove the disparity among minorities in the prison system? This will be a difficult task, one that many attorneys, prosecutors, and judges have tried to solve for many years. Reducing the minimum mandatory sentencing on non-violent drug crimes in half, and educating offenders could potentially cut the annual budget in half, while securing a greater advantage of offenders not returning to prison. Prison education has been shown to successfully reduce recidivism rate for released prisoners. In the U. S. , the rate of recidivism within three years of release is found to be between 43. 3 percent and 51. 8 percent. Those released prisoners who received an educational had a significantly lower rate of recidivism” (US Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics 2002). The solution as I see it would be to reduce the mandatory imprisonment polices written for the judicial system that is creating a disparity of minority inmate population, and save taxpayers’ money while educating individuals to make them a productive part of society.
For an inmate, receiving an education this could be the first glimpse of hope that will allow him/her to break the cycle of poverty that has overwhelmed his/her life for years. “Pursuing an education can also undo some of the damage accrued during their stay in prison; it can awaken senses numbed and release creativity that is both therapeutic and rehabilitative” (Piche, Vol. 17, No 1, 2008 p. 10). The racial disparity in America’s prison system will remain as it is today unless changes are made within the judicial system.
Racial disparity was in prisons prior to the war on drugs, but not at the rate it is today. Eliminating the mandatory minimum sentencing on drug offenses will drastically reduce the racial disparity in prisons. Educating prisoners will reduce individuals of re-offending. In 2004, The American Bar Association Justice Kennedy Commission issued a report describing criminal justice racial disparities, and recommended measures to eliminate or reduce disparities. The Commission expressed uncertainty as to the exact causes; they did recognize it to be a serious problem that needs to be seriously addressed.
One of the recommendations was to create a criminal justice procedure and ethnic task force to design and conduct studies to determine the extent of racial and ethnic disparity in the initial stages of criminal investigations, and make specific recommendations. I suppose this would be a good start to a never ending problem of an unjust judicial system and a drug problem in our Country. It could be a lot simpler if people would just stop committing crime, get educated and make a difference within yourself and family. Fast money, and a fast life leads to prison and ultimately a faster death.
Is there really racial disparities in America’s judicial system or is it just minorities are committing more crimes? In my opinion, I think it a little bit of both. One fact that I have shown to be true is that of the mandatory minimum sentencing is adding to the disparity in prisons. I doubt that a solution to this problem will ever be found until a world of crime is extinct. References: Audrey Bozos and Jessica Hausman, “Correctional Education as a Crime Control Program,” UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research, Department of Policy Studies (March 2004) p. Cole, David “No Equal Justice” (2012) Gottschalk, Marie (2008, April). Two separate societies: one in prison, one not. Retrieved from Washington Post Web site: http://www. house. gov/scott/pdf/wapo twosepsoc 080415. pdf. Patrick A. Langan and David J. Levin, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994”, US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2002) Piche, “Barriers to Knowledge Inside: Education in Prisons and Education on Prisons,” Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, Vol. 17, No. (2008) p. 10 Rees-Mog, (2008, March 3) Retrieved from http://www. timesonline. co. uk/tol/comment/columists/william_rees_mogg/article3471216. ece. Sabol, William J. , PhD, Minton, Todd D. , and Harrison, Paige M. , Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice 2007), p. 9, Table 14. The Sentencing Project, 2007. Retrieved from thesentencingproject. org The Rand’s Drug Research Center. Retrieved from www. rand. org Woodson, Robert Jr. ,
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