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The United States Criminal Justice System

Marc Mauer is the executive director of the Sentencing Project. This group advocates criminal justice reform and tackling racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system. Despite progress, many of the problems of the black population in the United States remain relevant. The number of racial incidents concerning African Americans is growing; the crime rate differs depending on the racial group. In comparison, research indicates that socioeconomic factors, as well as racial and ethnic discrimination by the police and the judiciary, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by some racial minorities. Even after adjustment, certain minorities are significantly higher, represented as offenders in almost all types of crimes.

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Regarding the impact of racism on juvenile cases, there are several examples of how the decision-making process differs from that of white and black youth. For instance, white teenagers tend to be described as having environmental problems; in other words, they do not get along with their family; consequently, they act up in school (City of Madison Police Department). Meanwhile, the black youth were much more likely to be described as having antisocial personalities, and this image leads to the wrong perception. If a person has environmental problems, there will be the possibility to resolve this problem by providing special measures such as family counselors and tutors to help a teenager get through school (City of Madison Police Department). Moreover, there are some dispute resolution programs in the community, and authorities can try to address behavioral issues through available interventions. In contrast, concerning the antisocial personality, the young person becomes defined as a threat and should be isolated to protect the community.

The number of African Americans among criminals is eight times the number of whites, and among the victims – six times. According to the US Department of Justice, African Americans and Hispanics made up two-thirds of all drug offenses from 1980 to the present (City of Madison Police Department). Furthermore, policing practices such as racial profiling, excessive policing in minority areas, and group bias can lead to a disproportionate number of racial minorities among crime suspects. Black youth are most often discriminated against by law enforcement in white neighborhoods, especially in areas where black populations have been on the rise. There is discrimination by the judiciary, contributing to higher convictions and harsher sentences for racial minorities. Concerning the aspect of prior convictions, it used to exacerbate the racial disparity of incarceration. Black and Hispanic youth tend to be detained regardless of the seriousness of the prior offense. The previous criminal record involves the possibility of being arrested and having a severe punishment.

The United States is considerably ahead of other states, ranking first in the world in terms of prisoners’ ratio to the total number of citizens. For solving the issue of racial disparity, some alternatives could be made at different levels. The method of risk assessment should be improved. For instance, regarding juvenile cases, when the decision of detention is made, some of the questions can be altered. Instead of asking whether a good family structure is or not, it is better to ask for a responsible adult who could oversee a teen’s behavior (City of Madison Police Department). The idea is that authorities give a chance to be looked after by an adult – ideally, it could be the mother or father, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be.

Moreover, it needs to work on poverty and racism in society as a whole. On the state level, it can be developing policies called racial impact statements to look at how a school deals with criminal justice and sentencing policies. Before implementing a new strategy, there should be attempts to anticipate some unintended outcomes and try to do this in advance rather than wait until the problem is aggravated.


City of Madison Police Department. (2011). Project Justice: Marc Mauer, National Best Practices for Reducing Racial Disparities [Video]. YouTube. Web.

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