Reducing Geographic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

The notion that racial disparities in the criminal justice system are a result of minorities committing more crimes is an incomplete explanation. 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. To address this issue, many communities have formed steering committees or working groups, such as the one in Pennsylvania, to tackle the problem. It is time for the United States to take affirmative action to eliminate racial disparities in its criminal justice system.

The Supreme Court has granted suspects of important crimes constitutional rights, which theoretically validates the outcomes of the criminal justice system as fair. However, African-Americans, particularly 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. Devah Pager's research has revealed that 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 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. The Department of Justice should also reconsider and reduce the number of low-level drug-related offenders prosecuted in federal courts. Research findings that address rates of racial disparity and their underlying causes throughout the criminal justice system should be highlighted.

The Government has taken some steps to address racial inequalities in 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. Although criminal law appears to be colorblind and blind to classes on the surface, there is a double standard at play.

Luis Mersinger
Luis Mersinger

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