Certain ethnic groups are largely over-represented in prison populations. But is there systemic racism in the criminal justice system? Is it discriminatory? Vote and explain why!
Systemic racism in the criminal justice system?
Ethnic disproportionality in the criminal justice system is a feature in many countries. Scholars explain ethnic disproportionality mainly as due to a combination of the following concepts:
- Demographic and socio-economic features of minority ethnic groups
- "Criminogenic" cultural practices within communities, which may legitimize or incentivize criminal behavior among some of their members
- Racism: racist stereotyping and discrimination by police, prosecutors and courts
Some ethnic groups are very disproportionally represented in prison populations all over the world. The US is one of the most paradigmatic cases. Racial disparity in sentencing is one of the problems analysts criticize. The rates of conviction of black and hispanic males are significantly higher than those of other groups. Convictions for robbery, murder and other violent and drug related crimes show clear discrepancies across racial groups.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics
The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment also varies largely across ethnic groups in the US, as well as other countries. In the US a third of total black male population will be sentence to prison at least once during their lifetime.
This disproportionality affects, not only the number people convicted, but also the number of people arrested by police. In the US and in the UK people of African ancestry are much more likely to be stopped, serched and arrested than white people. Some argue that police actions target predominantly some etchnic groups because they are statistically those more likely to engage in criminal activities or because reported suspects match the profile of these minorities. Data from crime victims and witnessess show that some minorities are identified as suspects more often than other groups.
However, there have been several investigations in the US and UK which have concluded that there is evidence of racist attitudes and behaviors among police officers. The famous Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, in 1999, concluded that the British Police Force was institutionally racist. Investigations on police misconduct in the US have also shown evidence that police tend to stereotype black people and act with a racial bias. The footage of police body cameras is also confirming that the cases of police racism are not uncommon.
In the US and UK, young black men are probably more likely to be involved in crime than other ethnic groups, but arrest and prison populations are predominantly white. There are many factors that help explain the higher rates of offending, such as harsher economic conditions, educational attainments, residential segregation, family structures, and racial discrimination in the labour market, which produce higher unemployment rates in these ethnic minority groups. Others point at cultural features and lifestyles adopted by some ethnic groups (e.g. gang culture, hypermasculinity) as causes for differences in criminal offending.
It is, nonetheless, difficult to quantify the contribution of racism to ethnic disproportionality in the criminal justice system at the level of policing, prosecutions and courts). Do you think the disproportion criminal justice system (including police, courts and prisons) are racially discriminatory against some minority groups? Is disproportionality linked to retributive or utilitarian justice?
To what extent is the overrepresentation of certain ethnic groups due to systemic racism in the criminal justice system?
Watch these videos about racial discrimination in the criminal justice system:
- Bobo, L. D. and Thompson, V. (2006) "Unfair by Design: The War on Drugs Race, and the Legitimacy of the Criminal Justice System", in Social Research, 73 (2), pp. 445-472 (article)
- Jackson, J. (2013) Just Authority? Trust in the Police in England and Wales. New York: Routledge.
- Parmar, A. (2011) "Stop and search in London: Counter-terrorist or counter-productive?" Policing and Society 21(4), pp. 369-382. (article)
- Sveinsson, Kjartan Pall (2008) A Tale of Two Englands: "Race" and Violent Crime in the Press. London: Runnymede
- Webster, Colin (2007) Understanding Race and Crime. Maidenhead, New York: Open University Press.
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Is the criminal justice system racist?
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