Making Black Lives Matter More in the Criminal Justice System
Date:  02-09-2015

New report offers blueprint for eliminating racial disparity
February is Black History in America. This month a wealth of information about contributions African Americans have made to this country will be showcased and applauded. But there is a dark side to Black history that also needs to be recognized and corrected. The shameful racial disparity in the American criminal justice system is condemned worldwide.

The Sentencing Project reports that when it comes to Black males in their 30’s, 1 in 10 are in jail or prison on any given day, and that 1 in 3 Black men can be expected to be incarcerated in their lifetime. Black women do not fare much better, according the Sentencing Project. 1 in 18 is locked up. Are Black males more likely to commit a crime than their white counterparts? No. Do Black people use or sell more drugs than people of other races? Again, the answer is no. Why then is there such an overabundance of Black people in jails and prisons?

Simply put, the criminal justice system has not evolved in promoting civil rights and justice. African Americans won the right to vote, but felony disenfranchisement in many states has taken that right away. The school-to-prison pipeline also targets young people of color, not only impeding education, but also giving young people a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives.

Some states have are making a serious effort to eliminate racial disparity in the criminal justice system. A new report from the Sentencing Project offers a blueprint for correcting racial disparity. Highlights from the report include:

  • Indiana amended its drug-free zone sentencing laws, which imposed harsh penalties on a defendant population that was over 75% African American in Indianapolis.

    Multnomah County (Portland), OR, revised and removed bias in its risk assessment instrument for determining juvenile detention, reducing African American and Latino youth detention levels by half.

    Berks County, PA, reduced the number of youth in secure detention – who were primarily youth of color – by 67% between 2007 and 2012 in part by increasing reliance on alternatives including non-secure shelters and expanding use of evidence-based treatment programs.

  • The Milwaukee County prosecutor’s office eliminated racial disparity in charges of possession of drug paraphernalia by instituting case oversight and emphasizing diversion to treatment programs and dismissals.

    Read the report Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System here.