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Criminal Justice Process - Racial Aspects Of The Criminal Justice Process

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The justice system undeniably arrests, prosecutes, and punishes African Americans in numbers out of proportion to their representation in the population. Some of the statistics are shocking. For example, it is not uncommon for there to be fewer young black men in a state's institutions of higher learning than are in prison, on probation or parole, or awaiting trial on a criminal charge. The percentage of the prison population that is African American is roughly four times the percentage of African Americans in the overall population.

To the extent this disparity reflects higher rates of criminal behavior among blacks the disparity is rational. Males are arrested, prosecuted, and punished out of proportion to their representation in the population, but no one regards this disparity as unjust. Since most crime is intraracial, the failure to prosecute black offenders will typically fail to protect black victims.

For some crimes (homicide, for example), the African American offense rate is dramatically higher than the rate among Caucasians. Yet even when social science evidence indicates that black and white offense rates are very similar, as with usage rates for marijuana and cocaine, blacks are far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted than whites. The cause of such racial disparities is debatable. What seems clear is that the reverse situation—one in which whites were disproportionately selected for arrest and prosecution despite similar offense rates—would not be tolerated politically.

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