The Injustice in our Criminal Justice System


In this paper I will present research on the overt racism in our criminal justice system today and the current mass incarceration crisis. The US is home to five percent of the world’s population and a quarter of its prisoners. Americans have been conditioned to associate a Black face with a criminal one, dehumanizing an entire race in the process. I will also present research on existing nonviolent efforts to combat systemic racism and reform the broken model of our criminal justice system. It is important to look at birth of the Black Lives Matter movement after the Zimmerman trial and how this movement has brought a new way of organizing activists. I will discuss efforts that push for rehabilitation and restorative justice as alternatives to imprisonment as a default punitive method. Lastly, I will reflect on the problem, the current efforts to find and present my own ideas for further activism. When it comes to ending modern-day slavery, we need people of every color to feel the burden and pain that has been inflicted on African Americans. This cannot be a fight that we cheer on from the sides; it is every American’s fight. We’ve become aware of the white man’s privilege. It’s time to start using it, not by presenting quick fixes and short-term support, but by examining what it means to be human and the facing head-on the injustice in our criminal justice system.

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[Sources on the Problem with Our Criminal Justice System]

Kilgore, James William. Understanding Mass Incarceration?: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time. New York?: The New Press, [2015], 2015. EBSCOhost,

James William Kilgore’s book gives a comprehensive overview of the incarceration strategy of the United States, the World’s largest jailor. He discusses many theories and policies in criminal justice from rehabilitation and restorative justice to the War on Drugs and broken windows policing. He also dives into the truth race and gender when it comes to mass incarceration and it’s devastating effects on the communities it impacts the most.

This source is a great way for me to present some key facts and concepts when beginning to understand the way race effects our criminal justice system. It breaks down the root of the problem and the many ways it manifests itself and could help provide some information on possible alternatives and theories for how our criminal justice could be reformed and improved.

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow?: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York?: New Press, 2012., 2012. EBSCOhost,

This book by Michelle Alexander takes a close look at the current subordinate status that the African. She argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal rights to employment, education, housing, and other public benefits are the way we have redesigned the racial caste system in America and that the way the criminal justice system targets black men is a form of racial control.

This book is the reason for so much debate and is referenced in the majority of my other sources. It sheds light on the heart of the issue and is really the taking-off point for my research. I want to use it to help present America’s current racial climate and the ways the racial cast system still exists. I will use it as a launching point when discussing mass incarceration’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement.

Teasley, M.L., et al. “Trayvon Martin: Racial Profiling, Black Male Stigma, and Social Work Practice.” Social Work, vol. 63, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 37-45

This article examines racial profiling specifically through the lens of the 2012 shooting of Taryvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal. The authors use this court case as an example of the effects of racial profiling and the black male stigma. They call for major social work organizations to bring attention to and advocate against this stigma and racial profiling.

It’s important to talk about the events that really gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and brought attention to racial profiling in the first place. I want to use this source to talk about deep-rooted stigma’s and how they played a role in this historical case specifically. It’s an important beginning to the nonviolence efforts that took off with BLM.

Pfaff, John F. Locked in?: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration–and How to Achieve Real Reform. New York?: Basic Books, [2017], 2017. EBSCOhost,

This book, recently published in 2017, presents his findings from 15 years of research on the roots causes of mass incarceration and our broken system. He urges us to look past factors like the war on drugs and private prisons, and instead look deeper at other factors such as a shift in prosecutors bringing in twice as many felony charges than normal in the 1990’s and law and order agendas in minority-heavy cities. This source is everything I could hope for in looking at the root causes of mass incarceration. It also has great data in the beginning about incarceration rates compared to other countries and times in America, starting with the 1970’s. It has true stories, and examines aspects of this crisis I have not read in any other sources so far. I plan to use examples to identify and proved possible solutions to the mass incarceration crisis.

Western, Bruce, and Christopher Wideman. “The Black Family and Mass Incarceration.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 621, no. 1, Jan. 2009, pp.221-242

The article begins by talking about the Moynihan Report of 1965, which linked social and economic struggles in poor urban African American communities to high rates of single parents. Moynihan called for investment in these inner city communities, but politics instead moved in a punitive direction sparking the emergence of mass incarceration. The authors document this growth of the prison population and pose several questions that shed light on the effects and social impact of mass incarceration, one of the newest stages in the history of American racial inequality.

This article is key for the research that I will present on the emergence of mass incarceration and specifically its effects on the Black community. By tying in the Moynihan Report, I can cover both old and new suggestions for alternatives to imprisonment as the go-to punishment for crime. This is not just about a race of people, it’s about communities and the families and individuals in them.

Arnett, Chaz. “Virtual Shackles: Electronic Surveillance and the Adultification of Juvenile Courts.” JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW AND CRIMINALOGY, vol. 108, no. 3, pp. 399-454. EBSCOhost

This paper by Chaz Arnett presents a detailed history of the way youth have been treated in juvenile courts and detention facilities and the road to using the types of surveillance technology we have today. It examines situations and patterns of youth being treated and tried as adult and juvenile detention facilities treating the youth there more and more like adult prisoners. Lastly, it takes a hard look at the dehumanization ankle monitoring has caused.

I want to use several specifics elements from this source in my paper. Arnett brings up statistics starting in the early 1900’s of black youth being more likely to be held in detention centers longer, tried as adults, and detained pending trial. I want to talk about the “Child Savers” and early rehabilitation efforts, and how we have lost our way when it comes to rehabilitation especially with youth. Another interesting fact I may discuss is that Black inmates have significantly lower odds of preferring electronic monitoring to jail time than White inmates. Maybe it’s about a stigma; maybe it’s about being stripped of rights in the world. I am curious.

Kleck, Gary. “Racial Discrimination in Criminal Sentencing: A Critical Evaluation of the Evidence with Additional Evidence on the Death Penalty.” American Sociological Review, vol. 46, no 6, 1981, pp. 783-805. JSTOR

This research article presents an evaluation of research that was published on death sentencing rates from 1967 to 1978 which concluded that black homicide offenders (except in the south) were less likely then whites to receive a death sentence. This reevaluation argues that the devalued status of black crime victims is an reason for this lenient sentencing of black defendants. Crimes with black victims are less likely than those with white victims to result in the imposition of the death penalty, suggesting that black victims are seen as less human than their white counterparts.

A good argument always looks at counterarguments, and I’m really interested in the way this one refutes interesting statistic. It may be slightly dated, but I think it’s important to see how long this problem has not only been around but been researched. I will use the research and statistics to show how racism permeates our justice system from defendants to victims. It is not exclusive, and part of the bigger problem is the dehumanization of black victims.

Eberhardt, J.L., Davies, P.G., Purdic-Vaughns, V.J., and Johnson, S.L. “Looking Deathworthy: Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts Capital-Sentencing Outcomes.” Psychological Science, vol. 17, no. 5, May 2006, pp. 383-386.

In Cornell Law School’s Legal Studies Research Paper Series, this research report presents the results of a study investigating the role of race in capital sentencing. After looking at 600 death-eligible case in Philadelphia, forty-four of which involved Black male defendants murdering white victims, the study concluded that in cases involving a White victim, the more stereotypically Black a defendant is perceived to be (e.g., broad nose, thick lips, dark skin), the more likely that person is to be sentenced to death. The study did not find this same tendency in cases involving both a Black defendant and a Black victim.

I can use the hard data collected and conclusions drawn from this study to present evidence on the overt racism in criminal sentencing. Whether jurors know it or not, they are influenced by how “Black” a person looks, suggesting that the more stereotypically Black someone is perceived to be, the more criminal they look. This is plain and simple racism. I can use this before or after discussing how we’ve been conditioned to associate African Americans with criminal behavior.

[Sources on Current Efforts and Alternatives]

Agozino, Biko. “Black Lives Matter Otherwise All Lives Do Not Matter.” African Journal of Criminology & Justice Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, Apr. 2018, pp. I–XI. EBSCOhost,

Agonzino’s article breaks down the logistics of “Black Lives Matter.” He begins by describing the rich history of resistance against criminal justice oppression that existed long before the BLM movement. He then explains how the countering with “All Lives Matter” cannot hold because it rejects the former, ‘Black Lives Matter.” The obvious is stated for the purpose of pointing out that some people still do not believe that black lives matter.There lays the problem- believing that a life is less than or disposable because of a skin tone.

I want to cite this article to introduce the BLM movement and the importance of rallying behind this cause. It is not an act of charity to support this movement; humanity depends on it. I will use these simple yet effective arguments to support talking about how the nonviolence that can be applied in changing people’s perspectives.

Furio, Jennifer. Restorative Justice?: Prison as Hell or a Chance for Redemption. New York?: Algora Pub., 2007., 2007. EBSCOhost,

In this book, Furio asks how our current justice system is serving us and presents restorative justice solution. America keeps expanding prisons despite the lack of credible evidence to show that punitive justice actually makes our communities safer. She explores the benefits and the possible downfalls of restorative justice from forgiveness and victim relationship to the effects on family and children.

I plan to use this source to dive into restorative justice as a method of nonviolence. This is one of the only proactive methods currently being used to change our criminal justice system. We are bringing awareness and shedding light on the current inequality and injustice, but a lot of the current nonviolent methods are simply resistance based. Restorative Justice offers a tangible solution.

Bagaric, Mirko, Mitgating America’s Mass Incarceration Crisis Without Compromising Community Protection: Expanding the Role of Rehabilitation in Sentencing. Lewis & Clark Review., 2018. Vol. 22. Issue 1. Pp. 60-60p. et al. EBSCOhost, Accessed 14 Nov. 2018.

This article by Mirko Bagaric explains the need to expand rehabilitation when it comes to sentencing and how we can work towards positive change and community safety without always making incarceration the default punishment. We have made community protection our priority when sentencing and have made our way of achieving that incapacitation in the form of imprisonment. Bagaric argues that courts should place more weight on rehabilitation when sentencing even when it comes to serious offences. Courts could adjust penalties in light of assessment of rehabilitation, but to do this we must first find rigorous, reliable criteria to make this assessment.

I believe rehabilitation and restorative justice can work hand in hand. It is a positive way to find solutions instead of a punitive one. This article could be of service in exploring nonviolent approaches to solve mass incarceration specifically and start working towards real safety, real change, and less people behind bars.

Edwards, Elise M. “‘Let’s Imagine Something Different’: Spiritual Principles in Contemporary African American Justice Movements and Their Implications for the Built Environment.” Religions, vol. 8, no. 12, Dec. 2017, pp. 1–22. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3390/rel8120256.

This essay deals with spirituality and its ties to the Black Lives Matter Movement and other African American justice movements. It goes on to talk about how spirituality influences architecture and the environment African Americans create for themselves, but the root of the text focuses on how some of the most visible, impactful campaigns have drawn upon spiritual resources as a source of empowerment.

This essay takes a different angle than I have explored so far in my research, but I think it is important to look at religion and spirituality’s impact on many African American social movements. Nonviolence has drawn on the power of believing in something bigger than ourselves, and that is not something the Africans American community has abandoned. I want to make sure to include this important source of strategy and power in the fight against injustice.

Martin-Breteau, N. “From pass:[#]BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation: Racism and Civil Rights.” Critique Internationale, vol. 75, no. 2, pp. 175–178. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3917/crii.075.0175. Accessed 20 Nov. 2018.

This book outlines the struggles the Black Lives Matter movement has faced since its conception. From Obama, the first black presidents scolding black activists, the rise of police murders, Ferguson, and so on, this book gives the details of the nonviolent ad sometimes violent ways this struggle for freedom has fought its way through history. Taylor argues that real liberation will come when a movement is built that can collaborate on a large scale and force America to face its flaws. The Black Lives Matter movement is well on its way to achieving that.

I needed a source that was able to articulate the long hard road the Black Lives Matter movement has fought to get to where it is today. Movements that demand this much change cannot just be passive. They require passionate people willing to fight, but we can still choose the tools we use to fight these battles. I will use this source to demonstrate the organization that is essential in tackling injustice and how the BLM movement has been able to mobilize people in way we never expected and may not have even supported in the beginning.

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The Injustice in Our Criminal Justice System. (2019, Feb 20). Retrieved February 1, 2023 , from

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