An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System
Date:  06-25-2018

Report asserts bias by decision makers throughout the justice process puts Black people at a serious disadvantage
From Vera Institute of Justice:



The evidence for racial disparities in the criminal justice system is well documented. The disproportionate racial impact of certain laws and policies, as well as biased decision making by justice system actors, leads to higher rates of arrest and incarceration in low-income communities of color. However, there is no evidence that these widely disproportionate rates of criminal justice contact and incarceration are making us safer. This brief presents an overview of the ways in which America's history of racism and oppression continues to manifest in the criminal justice system, and a summary of research demonstrating how the system perpetuates the disparate treatment of black people. The evidence presented here helps account for the hugely disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on millions of black people, their families, and their communities.

Summary

The over-representation of black Americans in the nation’s justice system is well documented. Black men comprise about 13 percent of the male population, but about 35 percent of those incarcerated. One in three black men born today can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime, compared to one in six Latino men and one in 17 white men. Black women are similarly impacted: one in 18 black women born in 2001 is likely to be incarcerated sometime in her life, compared to one in 111 white women. The underlying reasons for this dis-proportionate representation are rooted in the history of the United States and perpetuated by current practices within the nation’s justice system.

This brief presents an overview of the ways in which America’s history of racism and oppression continues to manifest in the criminal justice system, and a summary of research demonstrating how the system perpetuates the disparate treatment of black people. The evidence presented here helps account for the hugely disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on millions of black people, their families, and their communities. This brief explains that:

  • Discriminatory criminal justice policies and practices have historically and unjustifiably targeted black people since the Reconstruction Era, including Black Codes, vagrancy laws, and convict leasing, all of which were used to continue post-slavery control over newly-freed people.

  • This discrimination continues today in often less overt ways, including through disparity in the enforcement of seemingly race-neutral laws. For example, while rates of drug use are similar across racial and ethnic groups, black people are arrested and sentenced on drug charges at much higher rates than white people.

  • Bias by decision makers at all stages of the justice process disadvantages black people. Studies have found that they are more likely to be stopped by the police, detained pretrial, charged with more serious crimes, and sentenced more harshly than white people.

  • Living in poor communities exposes people to risk factors for both offending and arrest, and a history of structural racism and inequality of opportunity means that black people are more likely to be living in such conditions of concentrated poverty.

    In addition to the clear injustice of a criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts black people, maintaining these racial disparities has a high cost for individuals, families, and communities. At the individual level, a criminal conviction has a negative impact on both employability and access to housing and public services. At the community level, disproportionately incarcerating people from poor communities removes economic resources and drives cycles of poverty and justice system involvement, making criminal justice contact the norm in the lives of a growing number of black Americans.

    Read the full report here