How can we reduce geographic disparities in the criminal justice system?

In short, the claims that racial disparities in the criminal justice system reflect different crimes committed by minorities in crime are incomplete. Racial and ethnic equity is a complex issue that involves all aspects of the juvenile justice system and affects many different members of the community. Often, as was the case in Pennsylvania, juvenile justice professionals, including judges, prosecutors, advocates and probation staff, form a steering committee or working group to address the issue of disparities. It's time for the United States to take affirmative action to eliminate racial disparities in its criminal justice system.

By granting suspects of important crimes constitutional rights, in theory, the Supreme Court validates the outcomes of the criminal justice system as fair. African-Americans, especially black men, are more exposed to the collateral consequences associated with criminal records. Congress and state legislative bodies have submitted amicus curiae reports to the United States Supreme Court on various issues related to incarceration policy and criminal justice. As research by academic Devah Pager has revealed, whites with criminal records are treated more favorably than blacks without criminal records.

Racial and ethnic disparities remain all too common at all stages of the juvenile justice process. To help reduce disparities at the stage of arrest, as well as to reduce the total number of arrests, many communities conduct training programs for law enforcement that help police develop skills that allow for more positive interactions with young people, especially with young people of color. Specifically, the Department of Justice should reconsider and reduce the number of low-level drug-related offenders prosecuted in federal courts. In particular, the report highlights research findings that address rates of racial disparity and their underlying causes throughout the criminal justice system.

The Government has addressed some of the obvious racial inequalities that pervade every aspect of its criminal justice system, but these efforts have been relatively modest in scope. Patterns of disenfranchisement have also reflected the dramatic growth and disproportionate impact of criminal convictions. Of course, this double standard is not explicit; at first glance, criminal law is colorblind and blind to classes.

Luis Mersinger
Luis Mersinger

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