The State of African Americans in the American Criminal Justice System
A nation’s justice system is more often than not the only body that ordinary, and sometimes, powerless citizens could rely on in times of political, civil, and criminal conflicts. For centuries, justice systems from all over the world have been established in an effort to maintain equality among the masses and prevent civil unrest. The criminal justice system may also be considered as a vital extension of a law enforcement system . This is mainly because most, if not all, processes involved in a criminal justice system are necessary for law enforcement and law enforcement-based penalties to be enforced.
In the past decades, there had been numerous studies that have identified the unusually high rates of incarceration among Black Americans. Some studies even tried to compare it to other nationally-significant cultures and races such as white Americans and Hispanics.
The objective of this paper is to discuss and critique the latest state of African Americans in relation to incarceration rates by reviewing statistical and descriptive data from previous studies as well as to identify the different factors that may have contributed to such phenomenon, and lastly, to know how they influenced the current state of African Americans in the criminal justice system.
Current State of African Americans in the U.S. Criminal Justice System
Research findings suggest that some 39-49% of all African Americans living in the United States are currently behind bars (Wacquant, 2001). This can be considered as a major finding because this suggests that half of the entire prison inmate population in the U.S. is composed of African Americans considering the fact that they only comprise 13% of the U.S. national population. Speculation-wise, one can almost immediately say that there is something wrong with the current U.S. criminal justice system. The African Americans already constitute 50% of the entire U.S. prison inmate population; meaning, all the remaining cultural groups in the U.S. which is quite a lot, will have to share the remaining 50% amongst themselves.
In the same set of studies reviewed, it can be generalized that the percentage of prison inmates that are White or Native Americans play at around 13-16% only (Mauer, 2006). In another study, it has been identified that Hispanics are less likely to be incarcerated, based on the statistical findings that states that they only constitute 7-10% of the total U.S. prison inmate population. This is indeed an alarming situation, especially for the current generation of African Americans. Different studies have actually suggested that this current trend in the U.S. criminal justice system which highly involve the African Americans, could directly and significantly affect the lives (in many aspects) of the current and upcoming generations of African Americans and their roles in the society (Mauer, 2009).
Educational and Cultural Consequences
According to a case analysis of a Black American prison inmate by Anderson (2001), the lives of people belonging to this specific racial group can really be affected in a way that different opportunities and life chances may potentially be altered and most of the time, these variables become affected in a negative way. This issue can actually be identified as one of the reasons why a significant percentage of the Black Americans in the U.S. are considerably less successful than the whites.
The statistical finding that states that roughly 32% of black males currently in the age group 20-29 will spend a variable time in prison or in jail emphasizes the possible cultural and educational impact of this particular issue towards African Americans. According to Mauer (1999), African Americans are usually not allowed to participate in various forms of recreational and cultural activities. This justifies the presence of biases, inequalities and disparities in the past and present U.S. criminal justice system.
Wacquant (2001) argued that the current state of African Americans in the U.S. criminal justice system could be seen from a historical and an institutional perspective. To make the long discussion short, the historical perspective points out the different factors in African American and American society’s history (as a whole) that may have influenced their current state in the criminal justice system today. One of the strongly-related factors that he identified was the former U.S. society’s attempt to racially divide the country based on the superiority and the inferiority of the races. Unfortunately, Africa Americans belonged to the races classified as inferior. Today, according to Wacquant (2001) it seems that that trend is in reformulating state and what’s more problematic is that it is not recognized as a threat to a certain culture, a race, or even to the society anymore. The institutional perspective on the other hand points out the more current factors that may have contributed to the current state of the African Americans in the criminal justice system today. These factors can date back to as early as the 1980s wherein Black Americans got involved in some of the most notorious crimes such in drug trafficking, etc..
Racial Disparities in Sentencing
In an analytical study conducted by Mauer & King (2007), it was stated that African Americans were being incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of White Americans and that the states wherein African American incarceration rates are highest are located in the U.S. particularly in the Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. regions. Bridges & Crutchfield (1988) further justified the presence of racial disparities and inequalities in sentencing that greatly affected African Americans by doing a nationwide prisoner population analysis. The truth that there are substantial differences in terms of African American to White American prisoner ration from one U.S. state to another has also been recognized and justified in various studies , , . These evidences alone could actually be enough to prove that racial disparity indeed existed and actually exists up to now. The differences in black to white American ration simply implies that it would not be helpful as well as unethical to generalize criminal justice systems nationwide .
According to Sorensen, Hope, & Stemen (2003), there is a differential involvement or perspective in viewing the existence of racial disparity in the U.S. criminal justice system. According to them, the proportion of prison admissions between African and White Americans across regions are indeed different. However, they have also stated that these differences are most likely the result of differences in case processing protocols in different regions. The African-White American prison inmate ratio can also be more accurately explained by including the type of offense and the frequency it is being committed in the analysis of regional differences.
The fact that there are racial disparities and some degree of inequalities that exist in the U.S. criminal justice system has long been proven. It is only logical to assume here that this current situation appears to be unfavorable for Black Americans and favorable for White Americans living in the U.S. Across the journal articles reviewed and data collected in this paper, it has been determined however that such disparities and social injustices do not appear equally across all regions in the U.S. There are regions that have higher prevalence rates of criminal justice system racial disparities while there are regions which have few of such cases. The outcome of these racial disparities for Black Americans could be very destructive as it limits the life choices and opportunities that individuals who belong in this particular race have, an experience which would less likely be encountered by White Americans, as it appears on the different journals articles that were reviewed.
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