Good Example Of Marc Mauer, Response Movie Review
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Marc Mauer opens his talk with the story of two teenage boys and the petty crimes they committed. The first boy is caught shoplifting. It is suspected that he might be using drugs or alcohol as well. The parents immediately seek out help for their son. They enlist the help of a social worker who intervenes and works with the youth. Within a short period of time, the young man is showing improvement in his behavior and in school. The parents approach the prosecutor to let him know what they are doing as a family to help the son. The prosecutor drops the charges because of the family’s interventions. The second boy Mauer describes also is caught shoplifting. The family either does not or cannot intervene and get help for their son. Within six months, the young man is arrested for breaking into a car.
Mauer describes prison populations. He states that since 1972, there is an increase of one million in prisons since that time. The United States leads the world in the number of incarcerations. He states that based on current rates of incarcerations, 1 in 3 black males born in 2001 will be incarcerated compared to 1 in 6 Hispanics and 1 in 17 whites. Considering that blacks only account for 17% of the total population, there is a glaring disparity. The causes for this disparity can be attributed to racism, the allocation of resources and race neutral policies.
Racial profiling still exists although many law enforcement agencies are addressing this issue. Sentencing in the court system is also affected by race. Surprisingly, in death penalty cases it is not the race of the offender that is an issue but instead the race of the victim. The death penalty is handed down more often in cases where the victim was white.
Mauer also cites an example of unconscious bias in Washington State. Reports that are given to the judge prior to sentencings were examined. White youths were often described as getting into trouble due to problems in their environment, such as trouble in school or acting out. Resources such tutors and counselors can be obtained to assist these youths in getting help to improve their behavior. In stark contrast, black youths were often described in these reports as have antisocial tendencies. These youths are perceived as not being able to benefit from interventions and there is a tendency to incarcerate them.
Mauer addresses sentencing in light of a prior record. Often blacks are arrested more often due to racial profiling. When it comes time for sentencing judges take this into account. Many states also have habitual offender laws that require certain sentences for repeat offenders. Blacks tend to receive longer sentences because they are arrested more often. The causes for more frequent arrests include racial profiling and racism in general.
The war on drugs that began in the mid 1980’s is also responsible for the dramatic increase in prison populations. Approximately two-thirds of those in prison for drug offenses are black or Hispanic. Law enforcement of drug offenses are more subjective than traditional crimes such as rape and robbery. Strategies used by law enforcement against drugs mat overlook some drug offenders so that they can get to the prime supplier. Erratic sentencing guidelines for different types of drugs, crack and cocaine, has also targeted specific populations such as blacks. Crack
was a very popular drug in poor black communities as opposed to cocaine which was used more widely by whites and Hispanics. Also school zone laws that prohibit the sale or use of drugs in a particular area are responsible for the arrest of a disproportionate amount of blacks in urban areas.
Mauer addresses the use of risk assessments in the penal system and judicial system. These assessments were consistently biased against blacks in the system. Mauer cites to examples where these assessment were used such as a low security prison that allowed inmates home visits on weekends. White inmates scored appropriately on the assessment and were allowed furloughs. Black inmates however, scored low on these assessments were not afforded the opportunity for home visits as often as the white prisoners. In pretrial risk assessments to determine flight risk of defendants, the same phenomena occurred. In both the cases the warden and the judge who handled these cases were acutely aware of the discrepancy and questioned it. In Oregon, the bias in these risk assessments was addressed and changes were made. For juveniles looking to visit home, questions were changed from asking if there was a solid family unit to supervise the youth to having a responsible adult present for supervision.
The increase in prison numbers can also be attributed to parole and probation violations. Studies have shown that 1 in 3 people in prison are returning because parole has been revoked. Again, a disproportionate number of blacks are sent back to prison for this reason. Kansas has instituted policies that are helping to reduce the number of parolees that are being sent back to prison using simple strategies. For example, they have instituted graduated sanctions for parole violators and are holding parole officers more accountable for the decisions they make regarding parolees.
Mauer discusses the importance of racial impact statements. These are policies that states develop to address criminal justice and sentencing. These policies allow lawmakers and state officials to develop guidelines that will guide them in creating and implementing criminal penalties that are more equitable with regard to racial disparity in the judicial system and prison system. These types of policies would be very effective, especially when you consider situations like the strict crack cocaine laws that target blacks.
Mauer concludes the talk with suggestions on how to “level the playing field” when it comes to racial disparity. One suggestion is the shifting of resources for better balance. He admits that elimination of poverty and racial inequality is not attainable. Instead he suggests that we as a society and our governmental agencies reach out to and intervene with young black males in a positive way before they engage in criminal behavior. Counseling and tutoring are two ways to reach out to these children. Giving these children opportunities and teaching them how to make good choices is an excellent start. Many school systems and communities have programs like these in place already, it is matter of reaching out and getting families involved and participating.
Mauer spoke about the allocation of resources. Resources include parole officers, counselors, education programs, the judicial system and legislatures. These groups need to work together in developing racial impact statements that would help guide policy and laws in each state that would aid in reducing racial disparity in the penal and judicial systems. There is no question that bias and racism still exist in modern America. It may not be spoken of and seen out in the light but does exist even in an unconscious way. The statistics show that blacks are arrested and incarcerated at dramatically higher rates than whites and Hispanics. This demonstrates racism at every level of law enforcement and the court system.
Drug laws are also a major problem. Current drug laws target blacks in an unfair manner. As Mauer pointed out, laws regarding crack cocaine are much stricter than those that target marijuana. It is well documented that crack is an urban drug of choice and more blacks inhabit urban areas. Whites tend to enter rehab for drug and alcohol problems at a much higher rate than blacks. This often leads to the dropping of drug charges. Blacks need to be educated about recovery from drugs and afforded the opportunity to get help as well at the same rate.
Mauer does not revisit the example of the two teenage boys who were both arrested for shoplifting. When he related the story, he alluded to the fact that the young white teen whose family sought out help from a social worker would probably straighten out, go to college and move on to live the American Dream. On the other hand, he implies that the young, black teen had already been arrested a second time for breaking into a car and would probably go on to live a life of crime, becoming one of the one in three black men that end up in prison. If the judge in this case had offered help to the teen and his family, like involving a social worker or counselor, the young man’s life could move down a different path. Instead, he is about to become a prisoner who represents a sad statistic.
The issue of racial disparity in the judicial system did not happen overnight. It is a problem that has been growing and festering for over thirty years. It cannot be fixed overnight either. Mauer concedes that it will take the cooperation and the willingness to institute change at all levels of law enforcement and the judicial system. There also need to be inherent changes in society and their perceptions of crime and race. This can only be accomplished through education and open, honest discussion.
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