The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States

The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States

A Look at the Racial Disparities Inherent in USA’s Criminal-Justice System

SOURCE: AP/ California Department of Corrections

Eliminating the racial disparities inherent to our nation’s criminal-justice policies and practices must be at the heart of a renewed, refocused, and reenergized movement for racial justice in America.

A harrowing article by the Centre for American Progress, written by  Sophia Kerby | March 13, 2012

This month the United States celebrates the Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965 to commemorate our shared history of the civil rights movement and our nation’s continued progress towards racial equality. Yet decades later a broken criminal-justice system has proven that we still have a long way to go in achieving racial equality.

Today people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Further, racial disparities in the criminal-justice system threaten communities of color—disenfranchising thousands by limiting voting rights and denying equal access to employment, housing, public benefits, and education to millions more. In light of these disparities, it is imperative that criminal-justice reform evolves as the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

Below we outline the top 10 facts pertaining to the criminal-justice system’s impact on communities of color.

1. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.

2. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

3. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make up two-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.

4. According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates. The data showed that 96,000 students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.

5. African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison. According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.

6. As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percent over the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented. While the number of women incarcerated is relatively low, the racial and ethnic disparities are startling. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.

7. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses. According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.

8. Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes. The Sentencing Project reports that African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison.

9. Voter laws that prohibit people with felony convictions to vote disproportionately impact men of color. An estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on a past felony conviction. Felony disenfranchisement is exaggerated by racial disparities in the criminal-justice system, ultimately denying 13 percent of African American men the right to vote. Felony-disenfranchisement policies have led to 11 states denying the right to vote to more than 10 percent of their African American population.

10. Studies have shown that people of color face disparities in wage trajectory following release from prison. Evidence shows that spending time in prison affects wage trajectories with a disproportionate impact on black men and women. The results show no evidence of racial divergence in wages prior to incarceration; however, following release from prison, wages grow at a 21 percent slower rate for black former inmates compared to white ex-convicts. A number of states have bans on people with certain convictions working in domestic health-service industries such as nursing, child care, and home health care—areas in which many poor women and women of color are disproportionately concentrated.

Theses racial disparities have deprived people of color of their most basic civil rights, making criminal-justice reform the civil rights issue of our time. Through mass imprisonment and the overrepresentation of individuals of color within the criminal justice and prison system, people of color have experienced an adverse impact on themselves and on their communities from barriers to reintegrating into society to engaging in the democratic process. Eliminating the racial disparities inherent to our nation’s criminal-justice policies and practices must be at the heart of a renewed, refocused, and reenergized movement for racial justice in America.

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3 Comments

  1. Meg Torelli

     /  March 20, 2012

    This is an excellent article. I am white, formerly incarcerated, and lived in the housing projects in a city in the Southwest which is mostly Hispanic and African-American. While poverty doesn’t choose a race, the system has obviously failed to help anyone, and jails and prisons are so corrupt, that nothing is ever changed except possibly making the incarcerated a bit angrier, and more determined to succeed the next time. (I am not saying all prisoners or ex-cons are repeat offenders, but only that the discrimination of trying to find a place to live or work with a criminal record only causes a person to resort to the only option left in order to survive.) When faced with discrimination on the streets, in their own cities, in prison, and when trying to be rehabilitated and facing job and housing discrimination, its no wonder to see why there is so much anger and crime. The system has failed. This is how they want it, to keep their jobs, and the lower classes low. If only people could see this for the reality that it is, then so many angry people could cause a change. Unfortunately, we believe all that is told in the media, and the generations of the oppressed go on being that way … and let the rich get richer.

    Reply
    • Dear Meg,
      Thanks so much for writing in. I agonise at the state of the penal system in the USA, for a country that bombs others and tells people this is how great a country we are -be like us -it is truely shameful. Wasnt it Gandhi who said you can judge a country by the way it treats its prisoners? So true. The 100 to 1 crack laws (now repealed more or less as of last year) and the denial of those busted with drugs to get places/grants for college is brutal, as is urine testing those who need public housing, those on benefits in some states etc. You are so right saying the media dish up certain palatable ideas, pushed by the likes of Murdoch et al, in bite sized chunks, blaming those less able to fight back. It is a tragedy the way the corrupt so easily manage to dominate society and shape the system we live in. All we can do is keep doing our bit, every day in any way, to make life a better place. There are good people out there -as im sure you well know -and there are people out there pushing for better change. As hard as it is to follow that road -and push for better changes -it is the place where youll find fulfilment and other good people. And youll sleep well at night too! Good luck with your journey, it must take all your strength to get back into a life that seems determined to keep ex prisoners out. Thinking of you!

      Reply
  1. From Arrest to Sentencing the Justice System Is Inherently Racist. « clarkcountycriminalcops

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