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Understanding Racial Bias Towards African Americans in the United States Criminal Justice System

Over the past couple of years, the United States criminal justice system has undergone various changes. However, one thing, unfortunately, has stayed constant. That is racial bias within the system, more specifically, racial bias towards African Americans. In general, racial bias towards African Americans has a long history in the United States. However, the problem has worsened as it has continuously affected our criminal justice system, withholding its ability to appropriately address crucial issues in our country.


The Extent of Racial Bias

Understanding racial bias within the criminal justice system comes with the need to understand that racial bias in the system isn’t accidental. Instead, racial bias within our criminal justice system is rooted in oppression and discriminatory decision-making in which African Americans have been disproportionately targeted.


Further, understanding how this problem affects all levels of the system is important as well because bias by a decision-maker can occur at any time. For example, studies have shown that African Americans are more likely to be stopped by the police, detained pretrial, charged with more serious crimes, and sentenced more harshly than white people. All of these actions widely span the different facets of the criminal justice system, however, each can still be affected by racial bias.


Racial Bias Within Policing

In 2020, the death of George Floyd, an African American male, while in the custody of the Minneapolis police, sent shockwaves through the United States. As protests erupted across the country, a focus was put on policing, specifically, the negative attitudes of biased police officers toward African Americans.


The behavior of police officers can be impacted by implicit bias which can result in officers connecting people to stereotypes based on identity characteristics rather than actual behaviors. One such stereotype in the United States associates African Americans with criminal activity and has led to predominantly African American neighborhoods being subjected to police-initiated contact, African Americans being unfairly stopped, and unprovoked aggression being directed toward African American men.


Further, when looking at statistics, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 84% of Black adults said that when dealing with the police, Black people are generally treated less fairly than White people. The statistic also shows that 63% of White adults who participated in the survey agree with their opinion.


Racial Bias Within Incarceration

As racial bias continues to affect the criminal justice system, unfortunately, the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans does not seem to slow down. In 2018, Black people were incarcerated in state prisons at a rate 5.1 times greater than that of White people. Further, 1 in 3 Black men born at the time could expect to be incarcerated within their lifetime compared to 1 in 17 White men born at the time. 


Once incarcerated, African Americans are more likely to be disciplined and charged with misconducts, leading to punishments such as solitary confinement. Additionally, the opportunity for African Americans to escape incarceration proves to be difficult as well. Not only are Black people more likely to be denied bail, but even if they are given bail, they are also more likely to receive a higher bail amount than White people. Often, this amount can be unaffordable, leading to a financial burden on the African Americans incarcerated and their families.


Working to Solve Racial Bias in the System

Racial bias formed by stereotypes or incorrect previous knowledge about a group of people can affect the many levels of the criminal justice system. From police officers to judges, bias by a decision-maker can occur at any time. Hence, it is crucial that training is developed and implemented as mandatory to educate decision-makers on the implications of racial bias and how to avoid it while upholding the law.


However, it is important that education on this topic does not just reach decision-makers but goes beyond those who work within the criminal justice system. Instead, the general population should also be educated on the implications of racial bias in our country as we work to eliminate its growth.



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Prerana Kodakandla

Bentonville

11th Grade

Instagram - @prerana.kodakandla










References


Hinton, E. K., Henderson, L., & Reed, C. (2018, May). An Unjust Burden. Vera Institute of Justice. https://www.vera.org/publications/for-the-record-unjust-burden

NAACP. (2022, June 13). Eliminate racial sentencing disparities. https://naacp.org/resources/eliminate-racial-sentencing-disparities

Nellis, A., PhD. (2022, December 16). The Color of Justice: Racial and ethnic disparity in state prisons. The Sentencing Project. https://www.sentencingproject.org/reports/the-color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons-the-sentencing-project/

Nembhard, S., & Robin, L. (2021, August). Racial and Ethnic Disparities throughout the Criminal Legal System. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/104687/racial-and-ethnic-disparities-throughout-the-criminal-legal-system.pdf

Pew Research Center. (2020, August 17). Race and policing in America: 10 things we know | Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2020/06/03/10-things-we-know-about-race-and-policing-in-the-u-s/

Trusts, P. C. (2023, May 16). Racial disparities persist in many U.S. jails. The Pew Charitable Trusts. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2023/05/racial-disparities-persist-in-many-us-jails

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