The Color Of Justice: Race And The Criminal Justice System Essays Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Criminal Justice, Law, Supreme Court, Justice, America, System, United States, Race

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/12/24

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Does justice have a color? Issues of racism in the criminal justice system

Racism in the criminal justice system has been one of the most disturbing facets of the criminal justice system. The US criminal justice system has been tarnished with an alarming and inequitable impact on racial and fringe sectors in society (Justice Policy Institute, 2015, p. 1) However, it can also be said that racism is based on the imposition of the dominant class of its “stamp” over the “lower, more inferior” classes in society. Majority of the 20th century saw the factors of criminality and retribution as the defining characters of the racial gap in the United States.
The early part of this conundrum saw vigilante justice, “chain-gang style” prison policies, and sectarianism within the prosecutorial and justice system were commonplace, specifically in the southern United States. Across the United States, African American defendants were tried by “all-white” juries as with the case in the Scottsboro rape trail in 1931-1932. In addition, police forces started violent race-based civil disturbances in various communities; ironically, it was the police that directed the violence towards the marginalized and minorities in these communities (American Sociological Association, 2007, p. 2).
The US criminal justice system has long been regarded as biased against minorities, particularly against African Americans. In this light, it can be stated that the US criminal justice system has been designed as a way to maintain the “status quo,” meaning to sustain the dominance of one social class over the other. For example, if the “status quo” is interpreted to mean that the Caucasians are the dominant social class, and the African Americans are at the bottom, then it can be said that the mechanism has achieved its goal. The anchors of the contemporary police state, according to professor Manning Marable, are anchored on the operation that violence against the African Americans in the United States continues unhindered as long as the interests of the “whites” are safeguarded. In order to ensure this arrangement, the criminal justice system has been structured as such to control the suppressed sector.
In addition, in posing the argument that the US criminal justice system is innately racist, there are observers that cannot but argue that the justice system is trained to consider the race of the person as these come into conflict or contact with the system. The unequal treatment of the “colored person” through the system is another indication of the embedding of racism in the criminal justice system.
However, there is another statistic that is rarely mentioned in examining the relationship of African Americans with the criminal justice system. In the examination of the association of African Americans and the criminal justice system, what is rarely stated is that African Americans are not only inordinately represented as suspects and perpetrators, but also as victims, particularly when brutal crimes are concerned. To cite an example, from the years 1973 to 1978, “white” men were victimized to 42 to 45 per 1,000 annually; African American makes for the same period were victimized at 53to 57 per 1,000 yearly (Highsmith, 2015, p. 1).
Given the sheer magnitude of the American penal and criminal justice system, the statistics generated by the sector can hide the racial inequality that overshadows the American judicial system. The statistics bear out disconcerting figures; reports will show that members of racial minorities have a higher propensity to be arrested in comparison to “whites,” have a higher possibility to be convicted, and when convicted, have a higher likelihood to be meted out harsh sentences.
Furthermore, African Americans are even marginalized in comparison to other racial minorities and “whites.” African Americans have a 2.5 ratio possibility to be sent to prison compared to Hispanics and an even larger six times chance to be imprisoned than “whites.” If present trends were to persist, it is believed that one in every three African American males will be incarcerated in the course of the lifetime of that individual; in the same time frame, it is expected that one on every six Latinos will be sent to jail. These disparate figures for minorities is compared to the one where it is estimated one in every 17 “whites” is expected to be incarcerated in the course of their lifetimes (The Sentencing Project, 2013, p. 1).
The amount of research literature has not been detached from objective debates. The subject of race and its link to criminality is still one that generates highly charged, emotional discussions. In turn, these debates fuel credo-driven arguments regarding conflicting “schools of thought;” racism against “differential involvement,” “cultures of violence” set against “structural inequality,” and “empiricism versus critical theory.” There are those that contend that applying empirical evidence to the issue of racial origin and criminality is evidence in itself a manifestation of racism. Here, many criminal analysts are highly resistant to openly discuss the relationships of race and criminality, anxious that these will be misinterpreted or being called a bigot (Sampson, Lauritsen, 2009, p. 312).
No person will desire to be branded as a bigot. However, people harbor either direct or indirect biases towards other people, regardless of society’s trumpeted adherence to racial equality. Studies show that discrimination, deliberately or involuntary held, impacts dispositions. For example, one study sent personal resumes to different employers who had placed advertisements for job openings in their companies. The employers received the same number of resumes, slightly modifying the resumes to make it sound as “white” as possible.
In the research, it was found that resumes with “white sounding” resumes received 50 percent more interest from the employers compared to resumes with African American names. In addition, researchers discovered resumes with high quality skill sets purportedly to African Americans did not generate any significant response variation from a resume that was “handed in” by an African American applicant with average skill sets. Applied in the criminal justice system, a significant body of literature that displays the fact the race is a critical factor in resolving cases in courts, and a number of the research activities have targeted some actors in the criminal justice system.
Here, it was shown that jurors, faced with the task of trying defendants in courts, and correlates African Americans with specific crimes, will convict African American suspects in higher frequencies compared to the scenario of convicting a “white” defendant even though the evidence sets are exactly the same. In another experiment, police officers were given to inclinations to associate African American individuals at face value with the commission of crimes, sans any shred of evidence (Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System, 2011, p.20).
In a number of ways, it can be argued that the United States has made significant headway over the last 50 years in furthering the goal of parity in treatment of all Americans under the law. Withal, in one crucial sector, the criminal justice system, and the inequality before the law is not only growing, it is expanding rather than decreasing. Though US criminal laws are designed to be “color neutral,” it is in the enforcement of these laws where there is a massive racist tenet. The inequalities that are being inflicted against racial minorities under the ambit of the American criminal justice mechanism is jeopardizing more than 50 years of bitterly fought victories in the civil rights movement.
The mechanism that penalizes offenders is a significant pillar in a democratic society. However, for the mechanism to be sustainable, the community must be confident of every facet of that system. Simply put, every individual that comes into contact with the system will be treated equally. However, the prevailing criminal justice mechanism has drifted far from these idealistic moorings.
African Americans, Latinos, and other racial fringe groups are discriminated against by unequal targeting and disparate treatment by police and other law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, the criminal justice system racially biased indicting and “plea bargaining” strategies by the prosecution, and by racially anchored sentencing policies. Lastly, this is further worsened by the failure of judges, law makers, and criminal justice sector policy makers to address the inequalities that grow larger with each passing day (Weich, Angulo, n.d, p. 186-187).
The status of many African American males, compared to their Caucasian counterparts, has not improved even with the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. In the research of Derek Neal and Armin Rick, economic analysts with the University of Chicago, this was the alarming conclusion of their research activities; the two found that much of the economic improvements attained by the African American sector from 1940 to 1980 have ground to a halt, and on many cases even regressed.
One of the primary drivers of this switch has been the growth of increasingly harsh punishments for criminals, which has translated into inordinately rising imprisonment statistics. These shifts have a higher effect on African American communities compared to “white” communities. This is owing to the fact that detention and accosting rates have been traditionally higher in minority-dominated communities compared to those committed in “white” communities (Ingraham, 2014, p. 1).
For example, in the present “War on Drugs” being waged by the government, the results of the battle being waged in minority dominated communities has been devastating. Sentencing gaps and discriminatory implementation of anti narcotics laws translate to a higher number of African Americans will fall under the control of the US prison and corrections system compared to the number of those that fell into slavery. Though it has been discovered that “white” Americans engage in drug related criminal activities at a higher rate compared to African Americans, African Americans are imprisoned or arrested at rates that are 10 times higher than the rate for “whites (American Civil Liberties Union, n.d., p. 1).
African Americans comprise an inordinate portion of those living in poverty in the United States; these are likely to reside in communities where the socioeconomic indicators point to higher rates of criminality. Lauren Krivo and Ruth Peterson, analysts with Ohio State University, state that it is these variations in status in life, that interpret the vast variations in crime rates, particularly in hostile crimes, between Caucasian and African American communities (Sentencing, 2013, p. 3).
Nevertheless, there are those that contend against discrimination as the main factor in the inordinate numbers of racial minorities in the criminal and penal systems. In debunking the racism argument, sociologist William Wilbanks, in his work The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System (1987), Wilbanks evaluated numerous studies that displayed statistical disparities comparing “whites and blacks” in terms of arrests, incarceration, and a number of other criminal justice and penal factors. Wilbanks discovered that the disparities were generated from factors other than racial bigotry, inclusive of impoverishment or prior criminal offenses committed by the individual.
A number of sociologists have also debunked the “racism angle” as the main contributor to high numbers of minorities in the penal system. These sociologists have proffered a higher probability to poverty as a stronger contributor to crime commission rates compared to racial factors. For example, property and “street crimes” that are significant in the statistics are traditionally committed by people from poverty stricken communities. At present, 25 percent of all Hispanics and African Americans are living under the poverty threshold. It is estimated that only 10 percent of all “whites” live within the declared poverty line (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2015, p. 1).
Race and the color of one’s kin should determine the treatment one will be accorded in the criminal justice or corrections system. The Constitution protects and enshrines the right for impartial and equal treatment before the bar of the law. Regrettably, there are parties in the United States that move to perpetuate the injustices committed in centuries and decades past against African Americans in the society. Here, US law and policy makers must combine their efforts to “exorcise” the stigma attached to the nation’s criminal justice system.


American Civil Liberties Union (n.d.). “Race and criminal justice.” Retrieved 10 March 2015 from <
American Sociological Association (2007). “Race, ethnicity, and the criminal justice system: Retrieved 10 March 2015 from <
Constitutional Rights Foundation (2015) “The color of justice” Retrieved 10 March 2015 from <
Highsmith, G (2015). “Black skin, white justice: race matters in the criminal justice system.” Retrieved 10 March 2015 from <
Ingraham, C. (2014, July 15). Charting the shocking rise of racial disparity in our criminal justice system. The Washington Post
Justice Policy Institute (2015). “Racial disparities.” Retrieved 10 March 2015 from <
Sampson, R.J., Lauritsen, J.T. (1997). Racial and ethnic disparities in crime and criminal justice in the United States. Crime and Justice Volume 21 pp. 311-374
Sentencing Project (2013) “Report of the Sentencing Project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee regarding racial disparities in the United States criminal justice system” Retrieved 10 March 2015 from <
Weich, R., Angulo, C. (n.d.) “Racial disparities in the American criminal justice system.” Retrieved 10 March 2015 from <

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