In the criminal justice system there are many complaints that exist in regards to its fairness. Much of this is based on perception and much of this is based on the person’s individual experiences and observations. The terms disparity and discrimination are tossed around in different contexts to describe the views held by the system. Sometimes these terms are used correctly, other times they are not. It is a common misconception that they are each used constantly within the system itself and this is largely based on how the public views how the criminal justice system treats those who are entangled within it.
In this paper we will attempt to compare and contrast the terms disparity and discrimination as well as how each of them relates to the criminal justice system. “We cannot run society for the privileged and allow a significant proportion of the population to be marginalized. It impacts the quality of life for all of us if we have ‘throw away’ people. A justice system which tolerates injustice is doomed to collapse. ” —Leonard Noisette, Former Director, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, NY Disparity in the criminal justice system would be pertaining to the lack of similarity or equality.
Disparity in the criminal justice system is largely referred to as the inequality that exists. Racial disparity in the criminal justice system exists when the proportion of a racial or ethnic group within the control of the system is greater than the proportion of such groups in the general population. The causes of such disparity are varied and can include differing levels of criminal activity, law enforcement emphasis on particular communities, legislative policies, and/or decision making by criminal justice practitioners who exercise broad discretion in the justice process at one or more stages in the system (Analysis, 1995).
Discrimination is the treatment of or the making of a distinction in favor or against a person simply based on the group, class, or category to which that person belongs to rather than on individual merit. Discrimination is thought to be all throughout the criminal justice system. So much so, that it was brought up as a speaking point at a UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights at a recent session held in Geneva. It transpired that discrimination within the criminal justice systems is not only behavioral but also institutional.
Direct discrimination is easy to recognize; it is difficult to discern indirect discrimination, which seriously affects exercise of fundamental rights by vulnerable groups. It is tragic that the poor and the marginalized segments are under-represented in the administration of justice but are ‘over-represented’ in prisons and on death rows. The problem that exists with these two terms within the criminal justice system is that one can and will inevitably lead to the other.
If disparity is thought to exist because the criminal justice system has set in motion an act that does not show ample equality based on those within the system then those people who are not being treated equal could be being discriminated against based on the group or orientation to which they belong. There is a fine line between these two terms and the criminal justice system should be trained to be able to recognize when it could appear that either of them will have a possible potential to rear their proverbial heads.
They are similar in the sense that they both represent treatment that is unfair to the person within the system. Disparity would be where a person is not being treated equal, discrimination would be where a person is being treated specifically based on what group they would fall into. Each of these would result in treatment that is unfair to them or to the process to which they are involved. They are different in the sense that not all disparity is based on negative terms.
If a person has a particular job and they make more of a wage per hour than another person that does not necessarily mean that the other person is being treated unfairly. There could be logical reasons as to why a person earns more money than another. The problem with these two terms is that disparity could lead to discrimination. If a man were to be hired and given a higher wage than another man simply based on the group that he belonged to then the disparity that exists would have lead to discrimination.
To put it into terms so that it could be recognized within the criminal justice system, two men have a parking ticket, one man is fined a base penalty, and the other is fined three times as much. This does not seem fair, right? The disparity could exist in this case because this was the first mans offense, for the other man this could have been his tenth. The fact that the man was a repeated offender could inspire the judge to make his punishment harsher than the man who has no record of the behavior whatsoever.
In conclusion, disparity and discrimination are thought to exist thoroughly throughout the criminal justice system. The two terms are different as much as they are similar. One can lead to the other but just because disparity exists that does not always mean that it is due to negative intentions. Sometimes disparity is based on previous knowledge or previous behavior but that does not necessarily mean that it is derogatory toward the person. It can lead to that though as well as it could lead to discrimination. These are two terms that should be monitored carefully by everyone within the criminal justice system.