A Problem in American Criminal Justice


In recent years, one of the important facets of the American criminal justice is the declination of crime. The total number of crimes in the United States has decreased by 22 percent between 1991 and 2000. However, the declination was not accompanied by a downturn of all arrests. A further analysis of the ten-year period reveals that arrests were vacillated by this type of offense. For instance, arrests for offenses, such as murder, forcible rape, robbery and arson, plummeted by 25.3 percent. Furthermore, arrests of drug abusers grew by 49.4 percent. However, despite the declination in crimes, the American criminal justice has a prominent challenge: racial disparities in criminal justice.

Racial Disparities

Although African-Americans comprise of about 13 percent of the general population, 27.9 percent of their arrests were conducted in 2000. Particularly, during the war on drugs, the Blacks accounted for 34.5 percent of drug abuse arrests (Free, 2003). In addition, there is an excessive amount of African-American youth in juvenile institutions. The Department of Justice, along with six other leading foundations, reports that the African-American youth that is without a previous juvenile incarceration record, is over six times more likely to be sentenced to juvenile prisons than similarly situated White Youth. The disparity was especially prominent for violence and drug crimes (Free, 2003). Teenagers from the Blacks community were 9 and 48 times respectively more likely to be sentenced by juvenile court.

Furthermore, the sanctioning disparities are not confined to youthful offenders. African American adults are frequently subjected to harsher penalties than their white counterpart. An analysis of the first six months of the implementation of the Californian Assembly Bill 971, which established a mandatory 25-year-to-life sentence upon the conviction of a third felony, reveals racial differences(Free, 2003). On the same note, in Los Angeles County, the Blacks comprise of 10 percent of the general population, as opposed to the constituted 30.5 percent of the felony cases and 57.3 percent of the third-strike cases. On the contrary, the Whites represent 36.6 percent of the population; yet, they have only accounted for 19.7 percent and 12.6 percent of the felony cases and third strike cases, respectively (Free, 2003).

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Incarceration statistics for jails and prisons further display the problem of racial discrimination in the American criminal justice. In the middle of the year 2000, non-Hispanic African-Americans represented 44.6 percent of all male inmates in local jails and state or federal prisons (Free, 2003). The female inmates from the same population represented 44.5 percent. When comparing the number of inmates per 100,000 residents for each group, the disparity becomes more prominent (Free, 2003). Non-Hispanic African-American males were almost seven times more likely to be incarcerated, than their White counterparts. The females were six times more likely to be arrested than the Whites.

Furthermore, the African-Americans remain confined longer, than the Whites. A review of discretionary and mandatory parole disclosed substantial differences between Blacks and Whites, from the time served in prison, till first state parole releases (Free, 2003). Non-Hispanic African-Americans stay longer in prison, than non-Hispanic Whites for discretionary parole releases, by an average of three months. The largest racial disparity appears in forcible rape, in which the Non-Hispanic Blacks standard is 2 months longer than their Non-Hispanic white counterparts (Free, 2003). Capital punishment represents another area where racial disparities are prominent. In 2000, the Blacks made up 39.6 percent of the new admissions to state death rows. Whereas, the federal system has few death-certified cases, over 70 percent of those awaiting death in federal prisons on April 1, 2001, were non-Hispanic African Americans.

Causes of Racial Disparities

There are adverse effects of racial disparities on the American criminal justice: this problem affects decisions on investigations, arrests, prosecution and sentencing. There are high levels of discretion, because many prisoners from the Black community are sentenced as a result of decisions that are made on racial grounds (American Bar Association, 2007). The prominence of this problem cannot be ignored. For instance, a traffic officer stops a Black driver for a traffic violation, while ignoring a White driver that is committing the same offense; both criminals are treated with disparity (American Bar Association, 2007). Additionally, judges and prosecutors attend law schools; however, they continue to make racially imbalanced decisions. Illustratively, racial disparity becomes evident when a prosecutor offers a plea bargain to a White defendant, in order to avoid a jail term, but fails to offer a similar deal to a Black defendant with same charges. Moreover, the Black defendant may be less educated and community supporters may be of the same stature as the White defendant (American Bar Association, 2007). However, these are not grounds for the prosecutor and judge to be lenient to the Whites. These decisions are common in the criminal justice system, when police officers arrest individuals of a particular race simply because they believe individuals from these communities are more likely to engage in criminal acts than others (American Bar Association, 2007). For instance, an officer is engaged in racial disparities when he decides that a Black youth, waking in the White neighborhood while carrying a TV set, is suspicious.

Solutions to Racial Disparities

Racial disparities have adverse effects on the American criminal justice. Individuals, who are racially discriminated, face legal challenges. The point is that the defendant must prove that the prosecutor is engaged in intentional discrimination, in order for him or her to prevail (American Bar Association, 2007). Racial disparities are a serious problem in the American criminal justice, and therefore, it must be resolved. Although, human rights advocates have tried to stop this problem, cases of racial disparities are still a prominent issue in the American criminal justice. Therefore, the government should set a commission that will look into the issue. Secondly, the task force should include all parties interested in eliminating racial and ethnic disparity. The commission will have the mandate design and conduct studies to determine the extent of this problem in the various stages of criminal investigation (American Bar Association, 2007). Thirdly, it will make periodic public reports on the findings of their studies and make recommendations, intended to eliminate unjustified racial and ethnic disparities. The task force should conduct comprehensive studies on the criminal justice system from arrest to sentencing, to determine whether there are racial disparities, to establish their causes and to recommend concrete strategies, in order to eliminate them(American Bar Association, 2007). In addition, the state and federal government should make it a mandatory requirement for law enforcement agencies to develop and implement procedures that will combat racial disparities.


Conclusively, the American criminal justice has played a significant role in reducing the rate of crimes, however; it highlights an important issue on racial disparities. The African-American is overrepresented in both juvenile and criminal justice statistics. They are more likely to be arrested, incarcerated and sentenced to death in capital-eligible cases, than their white counterparts. When attention is turned from specific crimes, such as forcible rape and drug abuse to the pattern of offending, it is clear that African-Americans are arrested more than the Whites. Racial disparity is a problem that affects the prosecutorial processes. Police officers make arrests on racial grounds; one may arrest a Black driver, while ignoring a White one that is committing the same offense. The prosecutors make favorable plea for White defendants, while the Blacks are charged with the same criminal act. The state and federal governments should set a task force that will conduct comprehensive studies to determine causes, the extent of racial disparities in criminal justice and make concrete changes, in order to eliminate the problem.

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