Discuss reasons why one would believe that racial discrimination exists within the criminal justice system.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many different reasons why individuals would believe that racial discrimination could still exist in the criminal justice system.  One particular reason can be seen in legal sentencing.  The racial biases of prejudice and discrimination can enter into the mindset of individuals who assign punishments and terms of sentences.  It is here in which one can believe that racial discrimination can exist within the criminal justice system:

Differential sentencing or conviction rates by race could be evidence of a violation of this clause [of the 14th Amendment], making this is an important issue to address on legal grounds.... Establishing whether or not courts differentially treat minority defendants also has important social implications: such practices might further exacerbate social inequalities and could contribute to a self-confirming equilibrium where expectations of racial discrimination affect criminal behavior.

Studies have shown that there are disproportionate sentencing practices given to individuals who are of color and/ or economically challenged.  This can be seen in the sentencing guidelines that surrounded cocaine and "crack" cocaine usage in the 1980s.  The latter was associated with inner cities and the urban setting, and those who used it from such areas were noted to have received harsher penalties and worse punishments than their White counterparts who used cocaine.  The perception of courts and individuals within the courts treating "minority defendants" differently helps to establish how racial prejudice can be perceived in the legal system.

Another example of the perception of racism in the legal system can be seen in the application of the death penalty.  The supreme example of how the legal system cannot make mistakes and errors, but might actually do so is seen in the application of the death penalty.  Statistics can be used to perceive racism in the legal system:

The color of a defendant and victim's skin plays a crucial and unacceptable role in deciding who receives the death penalty in America. People of color have accounted for a disproportionate 43% of total executions since 1976 and 55% of those currently awaiting execution. 

The use of the death penalty and the numbers associated with those who suffer from it are tilted towards people of color.  Even the most coincidentally driven individual would have to concede that there might be some connection between race and the application of justice.  In this regard, there can be a perception of racism in the criminal justice and legal systems.

The amount of African- Americans who are in prison can also help to lend credence to the idea that racial discrimination exists within the criminal justice system.  Imprisoned at over six times the rate of White Americans, the numbers that show how people of color experience imprisonment to a wider extent.  This might also help to suggest that racial discrimination exists within the criminal justice system.  Naturally, there are many different factors at play here.  However, these elements help to contribute to the initial belief that there can be racial discrimination within the criminal justice system.