Report Documents How Racial Disparities in U.S. Criminal Justice System Violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Date:  10-13-2013

Racial disparity and bias taints everything from traffic stops to capital punishment
Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, announced a new shadow report, Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System,, which Maurer describes as documenting “the impact of racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system and how they violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the United States ratified in 1992.”

Highlights, taken from the report, follow:

  • Roughly 12% of the United States population is black. Yet in 2011, black Americans constituted 30% of persons arrested for a property offense and 38% of persons arrested for a violent offense. Black youths account for 16% of all children in America yet make up 28% of juvenile arrests.

  • The effects of racial bias are particularly well demonstrated in the areas of traffic stops and drug law enforcement. Between 1980 and 2000, the U.S. black drug arrest rate rose from 6.5 to 29.1 per 1,000 persons; during the same period, the white drug arrest rate increased from 3.5 to 4.6 per 1,000 persons. Yet the disparity between the increase in black and white drug arrests does not correspond to any significant disparity in black drug activity.

  • The crippled state of indigent defense in the United States disproportionately affects racial minorities because black and Hispanic defendants are far more likely to need the services of a public defender than their white counterparts. The median income for black and Hispanic Americans is roughly $20,000 less than the median income for white Americans. In the criminal justice context, such statistics mean that black and Hispanic defendants are often more likely than white defendants to rely on an indigent defense system of overworked, underpaid attorneys—therefore increasing their chances of being convicted.

  • Racial disparity is particularly pronounced in cases involving the most severe penalty imposed by the U.S. criminal justice system: the death penalty. The United States has executed 1,335 individuals66 since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia.67 As of January 1, 2013, more than 3,100 prisoners awaited execution on death row in the U.S.68 Of those, 42% were black.

    Source: Sentencing Project
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