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Racial Disparities in American Justice System Essay


Racial bias in the judiciary system in the United States has been a topic of discussion for decades. Whereas the judicial system is supposed to uphold the rights of everyone without bias, it appears to have failed to support the same within itself. Critics and scholars have discussed and debated racial prejudice experienced during arrests. Minority races have suffered the most in this regard, and have been faulted due to the color of their skin. Specifically, the essay will discuss racial disparities in the justice system. It will be proved that racial disparities in the justice system are caused by individual/personal bias and not flaws in the system.

Why do Racial Disparities Still Occur in the Justice System of the United States?

Racial disparity in the US justice system has only grown more intense over the years. Interestingly, many people in the US believe that they are not racists. Burch (2015) argues that racial bias in the judiciary system has grown due to the rejection of the idea of racial disparity. The premise suggests that people do not want to believe that there is racial bias in the system, to the point that they are not comfortable discussing solutions to the problem. Thus, the stated issue has been ignored and due to this, has grown exponentially.

Indeed, it can be argued that policies (Hetey & Eberhardt, 2014) and general racial bias resulted in an unfair system. The two minority groups that have experienced racial disparities in post-conviction sentencing are the black American and Hispanic communities. Using history as a backdrop, one can argue that the convictions held by the forefathers have been carried through generations.

Black American and Hispanic communities formed much of the hard labor work force in American history. Apart from this, they were perceived to encourage crime due to their culture, and their socio-economic class (Leiber & Peck, 2015). Both communities were believed to participate in violent and gang-related crimes. There have been attempts to resolve the issue of racial discrimination in post-sentencing convictions based specifically on the color of the skin, and on the beliefs of the past. One factor that has become clearer with time towards this end is that identifying the causes of the bias is the first step to resolving the issue.

Disparities Are Usually Cumulative and Not Characterized by a Clear Beginning and a Definite Ending

Fader, Kurlychek and Morgan (2014) argue that despite disparities being cumulative, they cannot be characterized by a clear beginning or a definite end. In discussing the sociology of racial bias in the justice system, one has to think back and draw lessons from history. As mentioned, the minority groups served as slaves and formed the hard labor workforce in the US. Due to this, they were oriented to depend on groups. The groups were formed within the larger racial group. It is this fact that contributed to the creation of groups post slavery. Initially, the said groups were for social support and not for committing a crime. However, and unfortunately, some groups turned into criminal gangs in an attempt to survive the harsh realities of a very competitive economy. It is at this point that the minority groups were associated with violent crime.

Important to note, the violence can be denoted from the fact that criminal gangs at the time, would snatch jewelry and money from unsuspecting victims. The crimes graduated and became larger and more dangerous. As the crime rate in the US grew, poor and middle-class Caucasians also felt the urge to commit a crime as the Black Americans and Latinas had introduced cheap labor into the market such that their (Caucasian’s) skills and services were no longer required as they were deemed too expensive. Towards this end, therefore, Caucasians also formed criminal gangs. However, due to the bias that had already been established through the years before that time, the society only acknowledged crime that was committed by black Americans to the extent that innocent black Americans would be accused of crimes that Caucasians had committed.

Identification and Understanding the Causes of Racial Disparities May Be the First Step to This Problem’s Solution

According to MacDonald, Arkes, Nicosia and Pacula (2014), racial disparities in the court system between black and white accused individuals are based on court officials’ opinions, and not necessarily, the case facts. The scholars used a scientific study to prove their premise. They took California as the area of study due to its racial diversity and high crime rate. Through the study, the scholars determined that the opinion held by court officials, namely the judge, prosecutor and the jury, has a lot to do with racial preferences compared to the case facts. Thereby, the root of the problem, according to MacDonald et al. (2014), is the beliefs held by individuals.

After the banning of slavery, black Americans were released into the society to fend for themselves. Important to note, as slaves, they were sheltered, clothed and fed albeit very modestly. Releasing them into a competitive economy, with little to no skill, and expecting them to survive was impractical. The said ethnic community grouped themselves in informal settlements, and this led to the rise of gangs, albeit not all being criminal gangs (MacDonald et al., 2014). Some scholars, such as Cochran and Mears, (2015), have refuted the debate terming it generalized. Despite this, the one obvious factor that comes across is that the belief that has fueled racial bias in the judiciary system arose from the history of both Caucasian and black American cultures.

According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (2014), racial bias in post-conviction sentencing in the US is alarming. The report states that black Americans get jailed 20% longer than Caucasians, despite having done the same crime. Also, the rate of incarceration is higher in black and Latina men than it is in Caucasian men (American Civil Liberties Union, 2014). The reasons can be traced back to the discussed factors.

As mentioned, much of the decisions that weigh on an individual sentence are made by court officials. Towards this end, it is crucial to also evaluate the role of the court officials, particularly the jury, regarding racial bias during sentencing. Lee McCormick, Hicken and Wildeman (2015) argue that the selection of the jury for any court case is a strategic process for both the prosecutor and the defender. However, jury members of black American descent are rarely involved. At this juncture, it is important to note that many black Americans are accorded black American state defenders. This works against them many a time, especially in jury selection. The power of the office of the prosecutor, combined with the race of the prosecutor, make it nearly impossible for the defender to suggest and add jury members of black American descent. It can be argued that the mere fact that both prosecutor and defender have to turn to races to win a case is disconcerting and proves the point.

Still on the public defenders, majority bargain out of court with prosecutors even when their clients are innocent. The fact that they are overworked and have resigned to the fact that the system will always be against them makes it easier for such public defenders to throw in the towel. Lee et al., (2015) confirm that a meager 3 to 5% of cases that involve black Americans get to trial. For Caucasians, the number jumps to also 94%.

Racial Disparities in Different States and the Outcomes that Cannot be Neglected

Burch (2015) confirm that in Georgia, black Americans are sent to prison 4.25% higher than whites. The discussion, using the given premise, therefore, goes down to whether the black Americans are more crime-prune than Caucasians. Burch (2015) suggests that matters regarding racial disparities in sentencing fail to consider the fact that black Americans, due to their social status, had to resort to crime to survive. Many scholars buy into the premise that history created crime and gangs that are associated with different races. Florida and California have also been identified to have more bias in regard to race than other states. Suffices to mention, the state does not matter much in regard to racial bias in the judiciary system. The impact of the bias, whether extreme or not, is what matters. Such bias denies basic human rights to the affected, in this case the Black American community. The bias also excludes the said community from the general society as they are perceived to be destructive.

Manifestation of Racial Disparities

MacDonald et al., (2014), explain that different types of cases arise different opinions regarding race. Cases that involve drug abuse, drug trafficking, and violent crimes are usually biased against black Americans and Latinas. On the other hand, white color crimes will mainly include Caucasians. Interestingly, if a black American and a Caucasian are accused of the same type of offense, a majority of court officials will be biased against the black American (MacDonald et al., 2014). As mentioned, the scholars believe that court officials fuel the disparities through their personal beliefs.

Another manifestation of bias based on skin color in post-conviction sentencing is identified in prisoners with life sentences without the possibility of parole (American Civil Liberties Union, 2014). The American Civil Liberties Union (2014) report suggests that there are more Black Americans serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in the US than Caucasians. Interestingly, court records show an equal amount of suspects for similar crimes between the two identified human races. The premise goes to show that there is indeed some form/forms of racial bias in post-conviction sentencing. Lee et al. (2015) also add that black Americans had a 33% chance higher of staying in prison awaiting trials compared to Caucasians. Caucasians would, therefore, have an easier process for requesting and acquiring bail compared to black Americans arrested for similar assault charges.

Reducing Racial Disparities in the US

It is clear that people have to take actions to resolve the racial disparities in the judicial system. Several actions have been suggested over time to help resolve the problem of racial disparities in sentencing. One such action is the creation of agencies that take up cases that have any form of prejudice based on race. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Equal Justice Initiative have been actively involved in such situations. These organizations work hand in hand with the government to ensure fair and equal treatment of convicts. Additionally, policies have been reviewed and updated to ensure that impartial and equitable hearing for all persons in upheld in the judicial system. The American Bar Association has also put up measures to ensure such cases are brought to light.

The task at hand is, however, still quite tedious. Behavioral change is sociologically one of the hardest things to do. However, the difficulty does not in any way suggest impossibility of the task. Some behavioral change strategies that can be implemented include community and interpersonal campaigns with influential and respected members of the different communities that will be targeted. The campaigns should be personalized such that they speak to an individual as opposed to a racial group to demystify personal negative beliefs and opinions about race. It can be confidently stated that by tackling the problem at such a low level, the society will be able to accommodate differences based on culture, as there are no differences based on skin color.


In conclusion, many factors have to be considered when discussing racial disparity in the judicial system. One such factor is the manifestation of racial prejudice in sentencing. Evidence points to a bias against minority groups, especially black Americans, in sentencing. For instance, black Americans serve longer sentences than Caucasians who have committed the same crime. Also, the rate of black Americans denied bail during trial is higher than that of Caucasians. Thirdly, a majority of cases that involve black Americans are settled out of court as compared to those affecting Caucasians. All these factors, among others, have accelerated the bias in the judicial system towards black Americans.


American Civil Liberties Union (2014). Racial Disparities in Sentencing Hearing on Reports of Racism in the Justice System of the United States, One Hundred and Fifty Third Session, October 27 2014. New York, NY: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Burch, T. (2015). Skin color and the criminal justice system: Beyond black-white disparities in sentencing. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 12(3), 395-420. Web.

Cochran, J. & Mears, P. D. (2015). Race, ethnic and gender dividers in juvenile court sanctioning and rehabilitative intervention. Journal of Research Crime and Delinquency, 52(2), 181-212. Web.

Fader, J. J., Kurlychek, M. C. & Morgan, K. (2014). The color of juvenile justice: Racial disparities in disproportional decisions. Social Science Research, 44, 126-140. Web.

Hetey, R. & Eberhardt, L. J. (2014). Racial disparities in incarceration increase acceptance of punitive policies. Psychological Science, 25(10), 1949 – 1954. Web.

Lee, H., McCormick, T., Hicken, T. M. & Wildeman, C. (2015). Racial Inequalities in connectedness to imprisoned individuals in the United States. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 12(2), 269-282. Web.

Leiber, M. & Peck, J. (2015). Race, gender, crime severity, and decision making in the juvenile justice system. Crime & Delinquency, 61(6), 771-797. Web.

MacDonald, J., Arkes, J., Nicosia, N. & Pacula, L. R. (2014). Decomposing racial disparities in prison and drug treatment commitments for criminal offenders in California. Journal of Legal Studies, 43(1), 155-187. Web.

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