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Criminal Justice and Discrimination




Vernellia R. Randall
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from Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in the United States, The Status of Compliance by the U.S. Government with the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Compiled By THE WORLD ORGANIZATION AGAINST TORTURE USA


The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights report, Justice on Trial, provides an up-to-date and comprehensive review of racial and ethnic discrimination issues affecting the operation of the criminal justice system. This section draws heavily on the content of that report in a heavily edited and excerpted form

With respect to the administration of the criminal justice system in the United States, problems associated with racial and ethnic discrimination are growing, not receding Today, three of every ten African American males in the United States will serve time in prison, and nationally 14 million black men will be disenfranchised as a result of losing their right to vote due to felony convictions. Racial profiling and police brutality target people of color for disparate treatment and abuse. The unequal treatment of people of color in the criminal justice system manifests itself in a mushrooming prison population that is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. Two million Americans of color, two-thirds of them African American or Hispanic, currently are in prison

The disparate treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system is not due to the fact that they commit more crimes. To the contrary, the majority of crimes are not committed by minorities, and most minorities are not criminals. It is the unequal and discriminatory targeting and treatment of minorities at every stage of the criminal justice process – from arrest to sentencing – that results in the unusually high number of minority arrests, convictions and long-term incarcerations. These problems are particularly evident, and especially acute, in the juvenile justice system (for additional information regarding racial discrimination in the juvenile justice system refer to the “Criminal Justice and Youth” section of this report)

Important indicators of the policies and practices of racial and ethnic discrimination that pervade the criminal justice system and produce disproportionately high rates of arrest, trial and conviction of people of color include the following:

·Racial profiling practices that target people of color for harassment and arrest -- while African Americans constitute approximately 12% of the population, as well as a similar percentage of US drug users, they constitute 38% of those arrested for drug related offenses;

·The practice of prosecutors to charge people of color for crimes, and for more serious offenses, than non-minorities, especially in drug related offenses – prosecutors tend to offer white offenders plea bargains and lesser sentences than people of color committing comparable offenses;

·Far more minorities than whites are serving time for drug offenses as a percentage of their respective prison populations, despite the fact that their rate of drug use is approximately the same;

·African Americans constitute 59% of those convicted of drug offenses, and, because they are less likely to be able to strike favorable plea bargains with a prosecutor, 74% of those are sentenced to prison for a drug offense;

·In 66% of cases non-Hispanics are likely to be released on bail, while only 26% of Hispanics are released on bail;

·Congress’ General Accounting Office reports that 82% of death penalty studies found that a defendant was more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim was white (for additional information regarding racial discrimination in the application of the death penalty refer to the “The Death Penalty” section of this report);

·African Americans who kill whites are sentenced to death 22 times more often than African Americans who kill African Americans, and 7 times more often than whites who kill African Americans;

·In 1993, 954% of those convicted for distributing crack were black or Hispanic, even though the majority of crack users were white;

·From 1986 to 1991, arrests of white juveniles for drug offenses decreased by 34% while arrests of minority juveniles for drug offenses increased by 78%

Compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination requires that all elements of the criminal justice system that produce racial and ethnic disparities be eliminated, to create more equalized treatment and results in every aspect of the process, including investigation and arrest, the decision to place charges, the severity of the charges, and the length of sentencing and incarceration

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