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Racial Disparity in the Correctional Population

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Racial Disparity in the Correctional Population

Christina Kaba

University of Phoenix Online

Cultural Diversity in Criminal Justice CJA 420

Kevin Moore

April 12, 2005

Racial Disparity in the Correctional Population

Racial disparity in the correctional population refers to the difference in the number of minorities versus whites represented inside institutions. "The American Correctional Association acknowledges that racial disparity exists within adult and juvenile detention and correctional systems. This contributes to the perception of unfairness and injustice in the justice system ("ACA Policies and," 2004)." "Blacks comprise 13% of the national population, but 30% of people arrested, 41% of people in jail, and 49% of those in prison. Nationwide, blacks are incarcerated at 8.2 times the rate of whites (Human Rights Watch, 2000)." This difference in proportionality does not necessarily involve direct discrimination; it can be explained by a number of combined factors.

Correctional agencies do not control the number of minorities who enter their facilities. Therefore, the disparity must come from decisions made earlier in the criminal justice process. Law enforcement, court pre-sentencing policies and procedures, and sentencing all have a direct affect on the overrepresentation of minorities in the correctional population. The prospect of a racially discriminatory process violates the ideals of equal treatment under law under which the system is premised (Kansal, 2005).

Law enforcement, as the frontline of the criminal justice system has a great deal to do with who ends up being incarcerated. Law enforcement personnel are the initiating beings who start the path to incarceration for individuals they come in contact with. Their decision in terms of making a stop, making a report, making an arrest and so on determines if and how that individual will enter the criminal justice system.

One discriminating practice used by police officers is racial profiling. This is the police practice of stopping, questioning, and searching potential criminal suspects in vehicles or on the street based solely on their racial appearance (Human Rights Watch, 2000). This type of profiling has contributed to racially disproportionate drug arrests, as well as, arrests for other crimes. It makes sense that the more individuals police stop, question and search, the more people they will find with reason for arrest. So, if the majority of these types of stop and frisk searches are done on a certain race then it makes sense that that race would have a higher arrest rate. This is the problem that racial profiling creates and it is most obvious in drug arrests.

The "War on Drugs" established that the impact of incarceration would be used as a weapon to combat the illegal drug problem in this country. Unfortunately, this war against drugs has fallen disproportionately on black Americans. "Blacks constitute 62.6% of all drug offenders admitted to state prisons in 1996, whereas whites constituted 36.7%. The drug offender admissions rate for black men ranges from 60 to an astonishing 1,146 per 100,000 black men. In contrast, the white rate begins at 6 and rises no higher than 139 per 100,000 white men. Drug offenses accounted for nearly two out of five of all black admissions to state prisons (Human Rights Watch, 2000)." The disproportionate rates at which black drug offenders are sent to prison originate in racially disproportionate rates of arrest.

This brings up the question; do blacks use drugs more than whites? Contrary to public belief, the higher arrest rates of black drug offenders do not reflect higher rates of drug law violations. Whites, actually, commit more drug crimes than blacks. "By 1988, with national anti-drug efforts in full force, blacks were arrested on drug charges at five times the rate of whites. Statistical as well as anecdotal evidence indicate drug possession and drug selling cut across all racial, socio-economic and geographic lines. But, because drug law enforcement resources have been concentrated in low-income, predominantly minority urban areas, drug offending whites have been disproportionately free from arrest compared to blacks (Human Rights Watch, 2000)."

"According to the most recent National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) survey, in 1998 there were an estimated 9.9 million whites (72% of all users) and 2.0 million blacks (15%) who were current illicit drug users in 1998. There were almost five times as many current white marijuana users as black and four times as many white cocaine users. Almost three times as many whites had ever used crack as blacks. Among those who had used crack at least once in the past year, 462,000 were white and 324,000 were black. Only among current crack users did the number of blacks exceed the number of whites -- and this was a change from previous years in which the number of current white crack users had exceeded the number of black users. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also estimated that in 1998 there were 4,934,000 whites who used marijuana on 51 or more days in the past year, compared to 1,102,000 blacks, and 321,000 whites who had used cocaine on 51 or more days in the past year compared to 171,999 blacks (Human Rights Watch, 2000)."

"The circumstances of life and the public nature of drug transactions in low income urban neighborhoods make arrests far easier there than in other neighborhoods. In poor black neighborhoods, drug transactions are more likely to be conducted on the streets, in public, and between strangers, whereas in white neighborhoods -- working class through upper class -- drugs are more likely to be sold indoors, in bars, clubs, and private homes. In poor urban minority neighborhoods, it is easier for undercover narcotics officers to penetrate networks of friends and acquaintances than in more stable and closely knit working-class and middle-class neighborhoods. In addition, low income purchasers of cocaine buy the drug in the cheap form of single or several hits of crack. They must engage in far more illegal transactions to satisfy their desire for drugs than middle or upper class consumers of powder cocaine who have the resources to buy larger and longer lasting supplies. The greater frequency of purchases and sales may well affect susceptibility to arrest (Human Rights Watch, 2000)."

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