Racial Disparity in Incarceration

Paper Type: 
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1600 Words
Date:  2021-03-13

Racial disparity has been a longstanding subject of discussion in the United States criminal justice system. It has been observed that non-white defendants, especially blacks tend to receive more severe sentences than their white counterparts do. Over the years, the dynamics of racial disparity have changed subtly. There has been a shift from explicit racism to more surreptitious expressions and outcomes. At least 60% of the people in prison are from racial and ethnic minorities (Sweeney and Graig). For African American males in their thirties, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day (Spohn, John and Susan 72). These findings have been aggravated by the lopsided impact of the war on drugs that has resulted in incarceration of many people of color for drug offenses. In fact, two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color (Sweeney and Graig). The racial disparity in the criminal justice system can be traced back to stereotypes that have been perpetuated over time and resulted in a culture of racial profiling. Racial profiling is the main cause of incarceration of more people of color than other races.

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According to information from the Wall Street Journal, data from the New York Police Department in the first quarter of 2011 showed that police stopped and frisked African Americans at a higher rate than whites with the stop and frisk law. In the first three months of the year, of the 183,326 who were stopped and frisked, at least 50.6% were black (Gardiner). The number of blacks stopped and frisked is in contrast to the general population of the city where African Americans comprise just 23 percent of the city's population (Gardiner). It is ironical however, that blacks and Latinos were less likely to be found in possession of illegal firearms and drugs than White people were. Profiling is the starting point for unequal treatment by the criminal justice system.

Law enforcement officers discriminate against minorities. Interactions between the police and people are the first in getting people thrown in jail. For decades, the police have carried out campaigns to stop and frisk people; especially blacks. The War on Drugs, a term coined by Nixon, has been used as an excuse by the police to stop and frisk black people. In New York, the stop and frisk was ruled by the Court as violation of an individual's right to protection under the fourth and 14th amendments of the constitution (Devereaux). Four African American men who claimed they represented thousands of Blacks and Latinos who had been stopped by the police and frisked unlawfully filed the federal class action lawsuit, Floyd v City of New York in 2008 (Devereaux, 2013). Witnesses included African American men, Latino men and police officers. A police officer in the Bronx admitted to stopping and handcuffing black kids despite their innocence. The officer explains that they were under duress to make at least one arrest a month and to issue 20 summonses in the same time (Devereaux). According to the law, an officer has to have reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to occur or has occurred in order to make a stop. However, the stop and frisk was mainly used to harass people especially males of African American descent.

Spohn, John and Susan (71) carried out a study based on numerous cases to identify the possible effect of race on sentencing decisions using a large number of cases and a large number of offenses. The use of a large number of cases and offences was to reduce the possible errors that would arise from studying and basing assumptions on a few cases as in other studies. The major finding of the study was that race does not have a significant direct effect on sentence severity. However, blacks are more likely than whites to be incarcerated for similar crimes committed (Spohn, John and Susan 88).

A study carried out in Bloomfield, New Jersey, based on student observations of 70 hours of municipal court analyzed tickets handed out in the township between Sept. 1, 2014 and Aug. 31, 2015 (Mazzola). the Seton Hall report established that black and Latino drivers were given a disproportionate number of tickets. From the study, it was established that 78% of the ecipents of tickets in Bloomfield municipal court over a month-long period were black or Latino, 20% were white (Mazzola). The figures were in stark contrast with the demographics of the town. According to the study, almost 60 percent of the town is white while the other population is non-white and blacks (figures based on census data) (Mazzola). Prior to the study, an analysis of tickets handed out over the past year was carried out. of 9,715 tickets that were given out in Bloomfield, the research established that 88 percent of tickets were given out in the southernmost third of the township, which borders Newark and East Orange (Mazzola). The distribution of tickets indicates police target specific areas in Bloomfield; acting as a de facto border patrol. By focusing on those crossing from East Orange and Newark, the police according to the study target African American and Latino residents (Mazzola).

Not only are blacks more likely to be stopped by the police, they are also more likely to be searched for possession of illegal substances. Data from the Department of Justice indicates that black drivers were searched three times more than white drivers pulled over (Bureau of Justice Statistics). Latino drivers were searched after being pulled over twice more than white drivers are (Bureau of Justice Statistics). Research carried out in Kansas and Connecticut suggests that race was a major determinant in determining who was to be stopped. An April 2015 report in Connecticut suggests that racial profiling led to stops of more black drivers than white drivers, as opposed to probable cause did (Quigley). The Kansas city study investigated incidents when police officers made investigative stops look into the cars interior, ask probing questions and even search the car, the drivers race was a major determinant (Quigley).

The war on Drugs is also targeted towards black people according to studies such as The War on Marijuana in Black and White (American Civil Liberties Union 1). Most of the arrests made according to the American Civil Liberties Union are for drug possession. More than half of these arrests are for possession of marijuana (American Civil Liberties Union 10). Despite similar prevalence in usage of marijuana in black and white populations,. Research shows that a black person is more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person is (American Civil Liberties Union 21). In some states, the probability of a black person being arrested over marijuana possession is six times greater than that of a white person (American Civil Liberties Union 21).

On the other hand, arguments exist that brand racial profiling as a myth. The opponents of racial profiling argue that it does not exist because it is a fabrication of imagination (MacDonald 12). MacDonald argues that police officers do not see race and only classify people as good or bad. Macdonald cites the example of residents of a Harlem neighborhood who asked the police to get rid of dealers from street corners (MacDonald 19). The population of the neighborhood is majority black. The dealers themselves were mainly black. However, the residents did not classify them as black or white. They only saw dealers and wanted them out. According to MacDonald, the subject of racial profiling gives criminals an exit route to perpetrate and get away with crimes. The collection and spread of facts on racial profiling leads to inappropriate stereotypes about criminals.

Racial profiling is the main cause of incarceration of more people of color than other races. The stop and frisk technique was advocated for as a proactive measure to prevent crime, find illegal firearms and drugs. However, the police who mainly target males of African American and Latino descent due to stereotypes and racial profiling have misused it. The war on drugs to begin with was aimed at reducing the proliferation of drugs in the streets. However, it turned into a tool for the police to stop, search and generally harass ethnic minorities. Africans Americans are more likely to be jailed and given harsher sentences than their white counterparts. Racial profiling has led to negative stereotypes towards African Americans in the criminal justice system.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. The War on Marijuana in Black and White. New York: American Civil Liberties Union, 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. "Traffic Stops." Bureau of Justice Statistics. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 12 Apr. 2016. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=702>.

Devereaux, R. "New York's stop-and-frisk trial comes to a close with landmark ruling | US news | The Guardian." N.p., 12 Aug. 2013. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/12/stop-and-frisk-landmark-ruling>.

Gardiner, S. "'Stop and Frisk' on the Rise - WSJ." N.p., 1 June 2011. Web. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303745304576357830596850132>.

MacDonald, Heather. "The Myth of Racial Profiling." Public safety Social Order Spring 2001: 12-28. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

Mazzola, J. "Are town's cops racially profiling drivers? Ticketing, ethnic make-up don't match, study says | NJ.com." N.p., 11 Apr. 2016. Web. <http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2016/04/is_nj_town_that_gives_78_of_tickets_to_minority_dr.html>.

Spohn, Cassia, John Gruhl, and Susan Welch. "The effect of race on sentencing: A re-

examination of an unsettled question." Law and Society Review (1981): 71-88.

Sweeney, Laura T., and Craig Haney. "The influence of race on sentencing: A meta-analytic

review of experimental studies." Behavioral Sciences & the Law 10.2 (1992): 179-195.

Quigley, Bill. "40 Reasons Why Our Jails Are Full of Black and Poor People." The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 8 June 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

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Racial Disparity in Incarceration. (2021, Mar 13). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/racial-disparity-in-incarceration

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