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Racial Disparities

Essay by   •  March 17, 2013  •  Research Paper  •  2,105 Words (9 Pages)  •  762 Views

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Racial disparities have been common within our judicial system for a long period of time. It is predicted that this type of racial profiling, as some would call it, will only worsen in the coming years. Within this paper we will look into the differences between African Americans, Hispanic, and Whites when it comes to arrests and criminal prosecution. We will also go into some statistics related to the criminal justice system and lawmakers, as well as possible reasons for this higher incidence of one race being targeted over another. So, what is racial profiling and how did this become?

Racial profiling refers to the use of a person's race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in which they decide to make traffic stops or engage in any other type of enforcement. Although racial profiling is illegal, it occurs every day all over the country. Some citizens and law enforcement employees feel that racial profiling is necessary in today's society and that racial profiling will allow officers to be more effective in cutting crime. At a Federal level, racial profiling is challenged by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause and the Fourteenth Amendment which requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law. With that being said, let's look into differences of those arrested and incarcerated in terms of race.

According to the Correctional Population in the United States, 2010 report published by the U.S. Department of Justice, as of June 30, 2010 there were 1,437 White, 3,892 Hispanic, and 8,932 African American male inmates between the ages of 25 - 29 being held in custody in state or federal prisons or in local jails. The national rate of drug arrests per 100,000 black adults has ranged from a low of 554 in 1980 to a high of 2,009 in 1989; the rate in 2007 was 1,721 (Human Rights Watch, 2009, p. 6). The rate of drug arrests per 100,000 white adults has ranged from a low of 190 in 1980 to a high of 476 in 2007 (Human Rights Watch, 2009, p. 6). In the past quarter of a century these numbers have changed drastically. About 25 years ago a minority was about three times more likely to be arrested than a white man. This day in age that number has risen for minorities to about five times more likely to be arrested than a white man. Unless something is changed soon within our judicial system this number will only get worse.

Upon conducting my research for this paper I found a lot of articles and publications related to this topic. Among these, a large percentage related racial disparities within our judicial system on our countries "war on drugs" while others listed some economic factors to blame. Historically, the causes and origins of crime have been the subjects of investigation by many disciplines. Some factors that are known to affect the volume and type of crime occurring from place to place are: (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010, p. 2-3)

* Population density and degree of urbanization.

* Variations in composition of the population, particularly youth concentration.

* Stability of the population with respect to residents' mobility, commuting patterns, and transient factors.

* Modes of transportation and highway system.

* Economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability.

* Cultural factors and education, recreational, and religious characteristics.

* Family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness.

* Climate.

* Effective strength of law enforcement agencies.

* Administrative and investigative emphases of law enforcement.

* Policies of other components of the criminal justice system (i.e., prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, and probational).

* Citizens' attitude towards crime.

* Crime reporting practices of the citizenry.

A large majority of civil rights groups and organizations against racial profiling state that the "war on drugs" is to blame for the disparities within the prison system. The increasingly disproportionate number of African American men who are being sent to prison seems to be related to the dramatic increase in the number of persons incarcerated for drug-related offenses, combined with the greater tendency to imprison Black drug offenders as compared with their White counterparts (Haney & Zimbardo, 1998, p. 7). The most recent data show that between 1985 and 1995, the number of African Americans incarcerated in state prisons due to drug violations (which were their only or their most serious offense) rose 707% (Haney & Zimbardo, 1998, p. 7). In contrast, the number of Whites incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses (as their only or most serious offense) underwent a 306% change. In 1986, for example, only 7% of Black prison inmates in the United States had been convicted of drug crimes, compared with 8% of Whites. By 1991, however, the Black percentage had more than tripled to 25%, whereas the percentage of White inmates incarcerated for drug crimes had increased by only half to 12% (Haney & Zimbardo, 1998, p. 7).

Since 1980, the "war on drugs" has been the most significant factor contributing to the rise of prison and jail populations. Drug policies have also had a disproportionate impact on African Americans and have exacerbated the racial disparities that already existed within the criminal justice system. This has come about in two ways: first, drug offenses overall have increased as a proportion of the criminal justice population and, second, the proportion of African Americans among drug offenders has been increasing. From 1980 to 1995, drug arrests nationally nearly tripled from 581,000 to 1,476,000, thus bringing nearly a million additional drug cases to the court system each year. Over the course of this period, drug cases came to be treated much more harshly. Primarily as a result of mandatory sentencing policies adopted by all fifty states and the federal government, convicted drug offenders are now far more likely to be sentenced to prison than in the past. Justice Department data reveal that the chances of a drug arrestee being sentenced to prison rose

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