Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

Discrimination that is based on ethnic origin violates the principles of equity and it is morally wrong. Principles of equality proposes that individuals who are equal are supposed to be treated equally basing on their similarities. In the assessment of treating others equally race is not a relevant consideration. This means that treating other people different can only be justified if there exist factual differences between people (See, 2007) On the other hand equality means nothing and it is a non specific term until it is applied to particular context.

Therefore in political context equality would be taken to means equal treatment under legal systems, equal access to the public offices etc. Equal treatment would also extend to equality in terms of pay, promotion and job hiring. The notion that people belong to a particular group of race was developed in the last century. This notion does not have meaning biologically yet societies continue to give it a meaning by using the term race as a social category (Free & Free, 2004).

Basing on the grounds of race African American has suffered discrimination. Initially African American suffered discrimination through the systems of slavery and later through patterns of segregation and exclusion both formal and informal in the shape of court decisions and legislation that have endorsed avert racial discrimination. However in most recently African American has been accorded legal rights which are protected by the court. Civil rights acts have been enacted to reinforce policies against exclusion and segregation.

Currently, in United State the community of black people is diverse for example comprising Ethiopians, Jamaican, Somalis, Nigerians and other West Indies and African Nationalists, each with its own culture that can be distinguished from that of African Americans (See, 2007). In the United States racial attitude is still being manifested basing on the skin color despite the heterogeneity. Nevertheless despite civil right Acts and policies against segregation and exclusion racial discrimination in criminal justice still occurs at some points. Following the report of independent commission on police department in Los Angeles (i.

e. incidence of Rodney King also called Christopher Commission) in 1991 it was founded that LARD or officers uses excessive force that is often compounded by bias and racism. A big percentage of others who were survey by the commission agreed that there was racial bias toward the minorities that is held by officers and that this racial bias can lead to use of excessive force (Banks2004). The review of radio transmissions within the police department in Los Angeles revealed recurrent and disturbing racial remarks that were often made in the context of beating suspects or discussing vehicle pursuits.

The report from this commission shows that many police departments and criminal justice systems are organizations whose procedures and practices tolerate discriminatory treatments. Witnesses of this commission testified that police officers harass minorities verbally, detain, Latin and African American men and use humiliating and massive tactics against the minorities in the minority neighborhoods (See, 2007). The Christopher commission report also showed that racial bias was also manifested in the conduct directed at fellow officers for the members of the ethnic or racial minority groups.

The officers of the minority group are subjected to racial comments and slurs in radio messages and are discriminated in the department (Banks2004). Another report of state judicial commission in New York in 1991 that involved a panel of attorneys, law professors and judges found that the courts in New York had two justice systems i. e. one system for the white and the other system that was quite different from that of the white were for the poor and the minorities (Banks2004). The commission found that there were injustice disparate treatment and inequalities that were based on the rule.

The commission also found that the minorities only received basement justice i. e. the families of the minorities are treated with disrespect, the court facilities are in poor conditions and there is lack of courtesy which was shown by the court officers. The judicial commission concluded that cases of minorities take very short time in court suggesting that there is form of assembly line justice and the cases of black defendants that take place outside the city of New York are frequently heard by an all white jury (See, 2007).

Research which have been conducted by criminologists to determine whether racial discrimination exists within judicial systems shows that there is racial discrimination within the system but the system itself is not characterized with racial discrimination i. e. the discrimination within the system is not systematic. However individual cases that occur within the system at some point of decision making tend to demonstrate racial discrimination (Banks2004). Racial discrimination within the system of criminal justice occurs because of adoption of procedures in the system prior to the assessment of those procedures on the minorities.

Racial discrimination or mixed patterns of bias against minorities also exist within the Juvenile justice system especially in processing of Juvenile through the system. Racial differences may seem to be minor outcomes at certain point within the decision making process in the system but they have serious implications when the decisions moves towards final disposition(Gabbidon & Greene, 2005). Racial origin sometimes influences law enforcement officers’ decisions about making an arrest.

For example, in a minor case that involve a suspected juvenile offenses, law enforcement officers sometime take into account the behavioral attribute of a juvenile in his or her decision whether to make an arrest. If the officer perceives that the suspected offender is showing disrespect it may increase the likelihood of an arrest. Research have also shown that black people are more likely to be shot by law enforcement officer incase that involves shooting criminal suspects because blacks are disproportionately involved in most of armed incidents that involves shooting.

For most of the offences that are charged judges and prosecutors have a wide range of freedom on whether the defendants should be released on bail or not (Free & Free, 2004). The court on the other hand may use factors such possibility of flight and dangerousness to the community when making decisions about the bail. The court often looks at the length of the residence in an area which acts as an illustration of community ties, marital status and employment of the accused to determine whether the accused is likely to be flee (See, 2007).

Racial origin influences the decisions on granting bail in several ways. For example defendant with lower incomes and low level of education are more likely to receive onerous bail terms and less likely to get bail. However white defendants of the same status as black defendant are more likely to be granted bail than black defendants (Banks2004). During the application of bail prior criminal records are counted more against blacks than whites.

Judge often take into account race when determining applications for bail and therefore the simple stereotyping of the minorities as more prone to violence and less reliable results to higher rates of bail denial regardless of any other factors being assessed (Gabbidon & Greene, 2005). . Although since mid 1930s the United State Supreme Court ruled on jury selection issues that made it difficult to practice racial discrimination in selecting jury pools. For example in obtaining names of potential jurors from the list of registered voters, property tax tolls or the motor vehicles department seems to be an objective process.

However in some jurisdiction the minorities are less likely to own properties that can be taxed, own automobiles be registered voters (Gabbidon & Greene, 2005). Therefore the effect is to marginalize the minorities and stuck jury pool with middle class white people. Defense lawyers and prosecutor and are able to use peremptory challenges to excuse potential jurors often without identifying any explanation or cause, and without accountability to the court and therefore it is possible to employ peremptory challenges in practicing racial discrimination in jury selection.

The supreme court of the United States initially was unwilling to restrict the rights of the prosecutors to use peremptory challenges in excusing potential jurors on racial grounds and relied on assumption that the acts of prosecutors to make such challenges are in good faith. The Supreme Court however determined that it can if the defendant can establish a deliberate discrimination case and shows that eliminating the minorities from particular jury was part of pattern of racial discrimination in a jurisdiction (Gabbidon & Greene, 2005).

There are few defense lawyers who posses’ information that can prove pattern of discrimination and therefore this stringent test is difficult to satisfy. Currently the supreme court of United States rejected this test and ruled that it is not necessary to establish patterns of discrimination and that the defendant only requires to produce evidence to show that the prosecutor exercised his or her peremptory challenges on racial grounds.

The court also ruled that the state must have to explain why thee minority are left out in selection of jury pool when the prima facie discrimination case have been made out. Even so most of judges gave benefits of doubt to the prosecutor and they show themselves willing to accept explanations of prosecutors rather than finding deliberate discrimination (Free & Free, 2004). People are expected to share their values and views with the state which is organized in such a way to protect the interest of the people and the criminal laws as means of protection.

Punishment should be based on rational factors such as prior conviction and the seriousness of the offense (See, 2007). On the other hand there are other theorists who perceive that societies comprises a group with conflicting views and values with the state which is organized to represent the interest of powerful ruling class. These theorists suggest that criminal law are used as instruments of protection for the elite and powerful is often based on non rational factors that include the social class and race.

These theorists suggest that individuals who threaten the power of the rulers may be subjects of social control i. e. the individual are more criminalized and they often suffer greater rates of incarceration. These theorists hold that the unemployed, minority and the poor form the group of these individuals (Free & Free, 2004). Laws concerning vagrancy help in illustrating the argument of these theorists. The state of being vagrant can be defined as simply the state of occupying public space without resources and often with no clear purpose being there.

It have been suggested that it is only the poor who can be engaged in vagrancy and therefore making acts of vagrancy and enforcing laws against vagrancy are attempts by the powerful to control the minorities and the poor. Most there was an error of segregation which also demonstrated the stand of these theorists during. During this time the system of criminal justice enforced laws that provided for white supremacy and declared subordinate status of the minorities (Gabbidon & Greene, 2005).

Currently the primary target of law enforcement is the street crimes which in most parts are committed by the poor, ethnic and racial minorities. Targeting of street crimes often contrasts with the relatively sparse law enforcement of white collar crimes committed by the upper class and middle class whites. In addition it can be argued that the symbolic aspects of social conflicts often drive crime control. For example the way people perceive threats rather than the actual threats influences the design of polices to control crime.

Most studies have found that minorities are highly sentenced to imprisonment and many justice officials are more concerned with threats and dangerousness from the minorities (Free & Free, 2004). Many justice officials perceive crime to be problem of the minorities and race is used as a coded of dress and certain lifestyles thought to signal criminality. The poor, ethnic and racial minorities are seen as a threat to the working and middle class of the American society.

The administration of justice also perceives racial discrimination and is fueled by the moral panic such as the war on drugs, the war on crime s and sexual predators concerns. These are often targeted to particular locations and lifestyles that are associated with the minorities. As consequence they subject the minorities’ behavior to increased levels of social control (Gabbidon & Greene, 2005). The way in which ethnicity and race plays role in decisions of sentencing is quite subtle and is often influenced by number of factors.

These factors include whether the white has an access to expert evidence, whether the white will benefit from greater resources, whether they can afford the cost of treatment of substance abuse etc. therefore although the poor minorities have been entitled to legal representation in the process of trial, there are questions about this representation provided to the indigent defendants by the public defenders. The war on crime also resulted to increased target of blacks’ minorities and the middle working class areas for drug enforcement.

However the processes that produce these outcomes may not be racially motivatedbut they may produce racially disparate outcomes. An example of racially disparate outcomes is the impact of war on drugs that have impacted on the women of color (Gabbidon & Greene, 2005). The war on drugs has resulted onto conviction rates for the low level drug offenders who often have little prospects of negotiation for any beneficial plea in exchange for the information about other offenders. The low level offenders are often women. Recently the most disparities that are being discussed are the issue of sentencing for the possession of crack cocaine.

The mandatory laws of sentencing that were passed by the congress provide harsh punishment for the possession of crack cocaine than powder cocaine. Significantly powder cocaine is used by upper class and middle class white while crack cocaine is mostly used by urban blacks. As a consequence the mandatory laws have resulted to major impact on blacks charged with crack trafficking (See, 2007). In conclusion research shows that the criminal justice system does not have a systematic racial discrimination but however racial discrimination occurs at some point in the process of decision making.

There are also hidden and informal forms of discrimination that occurs both from within and outside the system. These acts of discrimination may be rooted in social and cultural altitudes towards other races. Many minorities perceives that the criminal justice system discriminate against them and therefore is unjust. Therefore in order to counteract these perceptions the decision makers within the system are supposed to act ethically and they must strive to eradicate the suggestions of racial discrimination and bias from their suggestions (Gabbidon & Greene, 2005).

References: See R (2007): Human Behavior in the Social Environment from an African-American Perspective. ISBN 078902831X, Haworth Press. Gabbidon S & Greene H (2005): Race, Crime, and Justice: A Reader. ISBN 0415947065, Routledge. Free M & Free M (2004): Racial Issues in Criminal Justice: The Case of African Americans. ISBN 1881798550, Criminal Justice Press. Banks C (2004): Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice. ISBN 0761925880, SAGE.