Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

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It has been seen all over the country, causing riots and looting. These controversial events that seemingly happen more often than ever. The racial discrimination of our criminal justice system some may say have hit an all-time high. Nobody is saying that everything about the system is wrong but one person summed it up better than I could. Carlos Berdejo wrote, “research examining racial disparities in the criminal justice process has focused on its two endpoints—the arrest and initial charging of defendants and judges’ sentencing decisions.” (Berdejo 1) This explains it best because it shows us the worst possible points in the process, and where discrimination is most evident. It is very important how you talk about these things to not misrepresent the problem with weak evidence. I want to show one thing here and that is this. Preconceived stereotypes and systematic racism are essential to the discrimination of people of color in the criminal justice system.

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Stereotypes can be as harmless as saying just because you’re tall you should play sports. However, this isn’t always the case, the criminal justice systems discrimination is based off stereotypes of people of color sometimes even over evidence. This isn’t just a riding the wave of hype from social media and the top news channels. This problem has been broken down and examined hundreds maybe even thousands of times. The essay written by Berdejo was a great expression of this problem. Berdejo states, “White defendants are twenty-five percent more likely than black defendants to have their principal initial charge dropped or reduced to a lesser crime. This sort of problem will rarely be brought up because of the fact that they are found guilty just for different crimes. This sort of thing can be caused by many things, stereotypes for example. One stereotype you hear on the news about court cases is how dangerous to society the defendants are. If you put two and two together this is saying that people of color are thereby considered more dangerous to society than whites. This can be one of two factors, either it is the jury that thinks this or perhaps maybe even the judges themselves. You can see the problem here. Article #7 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations puts it exactly how it should be, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

Not a day goes by that we as a country will ever forget the horrors of what happened before and during the civil war era. That was so long ago there can’t be a problem with that now, right? Ever since the Jim Crow Laws were redacted from use many people ask if they are really gone or just taken another form for present-day America. Allen Beck and Alfred Blumstein quote Michael Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (2010) claiming “The racial difference in prison is largely attributable to intentional emphasis on offenses that blacks commit.” (Beck & Blumstein 854) This takes on a huge weight when someone claims this. It does have some substantial evidence of it. What is the difference from back then when they would arrest people of color for little to no reason? Now they can just lock you up for just being of color or maybe just give you an extended sentence. This just proves that previous history still plays a big role in the criminal justice system more than the evidence of the case. One example that you can maybe relate to just to let it sink in is this. When you see a retired professional athlete either working another job or just out and about you only think about who they were not about who they are now. They are just athletes to us nothing more nothing less, and I believe this same concept applies to people of color either before arrests or in the courtroom.

In the US we have a saying in our courts and justice system “justice is blind” this means that no matter what race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc, that you will be tried the same as everyone else. We know that no matter how hard we want to believe this it is simply not true. Donna Coker brings up an amazing point about a misconception that African Americans account for more drug convictions and arrests because they are more involved in violent trafficking gangs, therefore, it would make sense. (Coker 830) She then goes on to say this, “There is no empirical data that would prove the Government’s claim and that data that does exists suggest that claim may be inaccurate.”(Coker 830) After analyzing this find It got me to think what would the reasoning be for the excessive arrests in the black community? Whatever the reasoning is the statistics do not side with lack of evidence to support the Government’s conclusion. Coker says “though African Americans make up about 12 percent of the national population, they represent close to half of those who are incarcerated for crimes.” (Coker 831) Although these statistics are not exactly current I have yet to see anything to suggest a change. The conclusion I receive from this is that skin color/ethnicity plays a bigger role is sentencing and initial arrests then some evidence that could be presented.

Racism is a word that gets thrown around a lot in today’s day and age but many do not know what it actually means. It is very hard to decipher whether it is truly racism or just hate. This is what many believe is happening in the police departments and courts around the US. Many do not think it is racism involved or they might not be educated enough to talk about it. However, there are many cases and studies were done on this and some interesting experiences have been found putting the system we rely on into question. Deeply embedded racism is the cause of the unbalanced prisons over the actual crime rate. This is saying that the actual crime rate is not being controlled for all persons but instead people of color are targeted more heavily than whites. It has been shown in a study from Florida that blacks imprisonment rate is up to and even more than 6 times that of whites. (Bales & Piquero 743) The reasoning for this varies with each person you ask, but when the numbers are that staggering then something is very wrong. I believe that racism is still embedded in our collective minds and we all use it more or less when making decisions. It never really disappeared after the civil war era and are extremely worrying to a majority of America.

When you see the statistics and numbers showing these huge racial differences between blacks and white you obviously want it to change right? This is a problem that some are finding out recently. When many people are exposed to these things they don’t have that expected response, even when you try to be completely clear and really show them what’s really going on they tend to actually go in the other direction. (Eberhardt & Hetey 184) This might confuse you and it did me at first too but really it brings me back to what I said before. We are so race-minded that we can not just point out a problem and expect everyone to all get behind it together. When we are faced with an issue that does not directly affect us we rarely muster up much support on the issue. Since this problem isn’t blasted over news outlets and kind of shoved aside it goes unnoticed by the general population.

This issue with our system in place isn’t something we can just pass a law and completely fix it. However, I do believe one issue is possible to fix. In America we are able to defend ourselves in court with attorneys we can buy, however not everyone can do this so we provide for those individuals. The problem isn’t that we leave them to fend for themselves is that the resources we give them aren’t good enough to get a fair and even trial. The underfunded and understaffed public defenders offices are the root cause of this and more times than not it directly affects these minority groups. (Engstrom) Nothing will ever be more eye-opening then looking at the poor community when they are on trial for capital punishment. Is it acceptable to put someone’s life in the hands of a public defender or should something else be done to ensure they aren’t going to die because of a mistake a lawyer can make? “Poor people charged with capital offences in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and elsewhere usually have no alternative except to be represented by attorneys who lack the skill, knowledge, resources, financial incentive and willingness to protect their rights.” (Bright 690) Really this isn’t necessarily a race issue, however, we cannot be okay with putting a below average unmotivated lawyer in charge of someone’s life. It can be fixed by proper funding and training it is only a matter of time before this happens but for now, it is a waiting game.

Although this is such a controversial topic the one thing I think we all can agree on is if it’s true it needs to be fixed sooner rather than later at this point. There are ways to fix this, however. We would need to completely switch the standards for our policing and our court trials. For some, this seems ridiculous and would hurt more than help but when you look at the numbers we already are almost to the point of no return. If you believe that we do not need drastic changes then this quote from Hester and Hartman will change your mind. “judges will feel ‘‘liberated’’ to individualize the sentence on a variety of factors. This ambiguity increases the likelihood that sentencing decisions might be influenced by the race of the offender (Spohn 2000; Spohn and Cederblom 1991; Spohn and DeLone 2000).” (Hester and Hartman 78) This should scream out to everyone the need for change. Our system should not be incentivized to convict individuals no matter what race. It is a known fact that District Attorneys are rated by their conviction rates and police departments by the number of arrests they make. Justice cannot be incentivized by any means or it goes against the saying I brought up before injustice being blind.

In conclusion, the problem with our criminal justice system has 5 factors that contribute to its discriminatory actions we see through the years. The biggest problem we face is the stereotypes drilled into our brains from movies, news, social media. It sticks with you for the rest of your life-altering your decisions. Next, is the deeply embedded racism starting back hundreds of years and we have yet to break through those grasps. This goes hand in hand with how our previous history affects our country today with The New Jim Crow and everything involving the rights of our black Americans. The one factor I think we as a nation should be able to eliminate is the lack of proper resources for defending the poverty-stricken individuals who put their lives in the hands of public defendants. Lastly the fact that it has been proven that the color of your skin can directly impact your conviction and sentencing is beyond me. You should always have a fair and even trial no matter what the charge or who you are as a person. The systematic racism and stereotyping are essential to the constant discrimination we see on a day to day basis in America. It is only a matter of time before it hits the point of no return.

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Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System. (2019, Feb 20). Retrieved February 8, 2023 , from

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