Racial Justice in the Criminal Justice System

Criminal Justice v Social JusticeIn an article published in the Chicago Reader last summer, Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky claimed, “People all over Chicago smoke pot—but almost everyone busted for it is black”. It was a great line that definitely caught my attention.

The appeal of this article crossed racial and ethnic boundaries. Judging by the comments it generated, many readers were surprised that what seemed to be an outlandish assertion was actually backed up by credible substantiating data. Unfortunately, black and Latino men were not unaware of the claim. To them, the Chicago Reader was simply putting  a spotlight on their day to day reality.

While most Americans are cognizant of the disproportionate representation of Black and Brown men in our prisons, fewer are aware of criminal justice system’s selective enforcement of laws and selective use of penalties which often results in racially biased outcomes — as was highlighted in the Chicago Reader article.

The Center for Constitutional Rights found that harsher penalties are imposed on Black and Latino men when compared to the penalties imposed on white men for the same crime. This is one of the major contributing factors to the over representation of Black and Brown men in the prison system.

Black and Latinos get prison time for many of the same offenses committed by whites but whites either avoid arrest because their communities are not as heavily policed or they are penalized more leniently. This was borne out of the ten year data collection campaign and study conducted by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

The data was used to support findings that included several allegations filed against the city of New York in a federal class action lawsuit — Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al.  According to the report, Black and Latino suspects are more likely to be arrested rather than issued a summons when compared to White suspects accused of the same crime. The CCR’s study also found that Black and Latino suspects are more likely to have force used against them than are White suspects under the same or similar conditions.

The Sentencing Project, a national organization that works for a fair and effective criminal justice system, conducts research the outcome of which is used to educate the public and those who work in criminal justice.

According to Sentencing Project research, more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.

The Sentencing Project and The Southern Coalition for Social Justice will host a one-hour advocate training conference call this month addressing these issues. We strongly encourage our readers to attend.

Advocate Training Conference Call:
Ensuring Racial Justice in the Criminal Justice System
Thursday, March 22nd, 2-3 PM EST
To register, please rsvp to:

This training will feature advocates engaged in developing state strategies for ensuring racial justice in the criminal justice system. The conference call agenda includes:

  • History of the Racial Justice Act in North Carolina;
  • Advocacy strategies that led to passage of the Racial Justice Act;
  • Implementation and political environment following enactment; and
  • Highlights from other states — Missouri, Texas, Iowa, and Vermont — where legislation has been introduced to eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.


  • Daryl Atkinson, The Southern Coalition for Social Justice;
  • Darryl Hunt, Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice;
  • Malcolm Hunter, Center for Death Penalty Litigation;
  • Nicole D. Porter, The Sentencing Project; and
  • James Williams, Co-Chair, Racial and Ethnic Bias Task Force of North Carolina.

Whether you are a progressive activist, attorney, work in law enforcement,  or are a concerned human being, you can benefit from a greater awareness of this national travesty.  This training is free and open to anyone interested in this topic.

Here are some additional resources – all of these organizations need and deserve your support:

  • The New Jim Crow – Official website for Michelle Alexander’s award winning book that documents the origins and drivers associated with mass incarceration of Black men in the United States. This site offers solutions and more.
  • Prison Policy Initiative – An organization that documents the impact of mass incarceration on individuals, communities, and the national welfare in order to empower the public to improve criminal justice policy
sharon kyle

Sharon Kyle

  • The Center for Constitutional Rights –  An organization dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center – A nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.
  • Critical Resistance – A grassroots organization founded by Angela Davis, Rose Braz, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and others to build a mass movement to dismantle the prison-industrial complex.

Sharon Kyle
Publisher, LA Progressive


  1. Hwood007 says

    The county north of my county has a school drop out rate that is used to predict the future need for jail space.  It seems that too many teenage males drop out and can not find jobs and end up working in the drug delivery system.  As they are the low end of the product chain, they suffer the most arrests and thus the most jail time.  When they get out of jail, what hope do they have for a job other than the one that put them in jail the first time.

    The need is to work harder to keep them in school and turn them into a tax payer instead of a tax user.  send  good ideas to Charles Richardson of macon telegraph. 

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