The criminal justice system in America is what helps to keep the population safe from harm, but it seems to be driven by racial biases. With over 2. 2 billion people behind bars, mass incarceration is an issues facing the correctional system in America (Smith, 2015). These individuals have been sentenced to non-violent drug crimes and are mostly people of color. It is estimated that the likelihood of a black felon being sentenced to prison is 26 percent higher than that white individual found guilty of a felony (Sutton, 2013).
Sentencing disparities in America are a fundamental issue in the criminal justice system. It is a real problem that affects the black population. Racial threat theory and social disorganization theory can be used to help explain the cause of why these disparities exist. When we admit that there is a problem, then we can begin to fix it. Racial Discrimination The racially biased system has caused several inmates of color to receive a harsher sentences than their white counterparts or plea out and receive a lesser sentence in fear of a greater one, no matter how weak the evidence is.
Eric Holder, the former U. S. attorney general, believes that communities, especially those communities with people of color and the economically disadvantages, see the criminal justice system as unfair. People within these communities watch people they know are condemned by the system, spend more time in the system, not to afford bail, and targeted by police, which Holder believes will continue to cause explosions like the one in Ferguson, Missouri (Smith, 2015).
Young black males are being told by their fathers that he must conduct himself in a manner that will ensure that he does not put him in a situation with the police (Smith, 2015). A retired Baltimore police Sergeant, Michael Wood, acknowledges that the system is racially biased and admits that the squad he worked with that had the highest arrest rate often arrested black, males, 16-24 yr. because those are the individuals that the criminal justice system is focusing (Smith, 2015).
Even though blacks and whites carry narcotics at the same rate blacks are targeted because they are easier to prosecute and the officer and the department will be less likely to receive repercussions from an economically poor family, while middle class white families are more likely to hire a lawyer versus using a public defender and have a higher likelihood of suing the department (Smith, 2015). Cameras, cell phones, and officer body cameras have all brought to light the abuse that economically poor communities and communities of color receive from the criminal justice system.
Legislative Causes: Mandatory Sentencing When mandatory minimum sentences were enacted there was an explosion in inmate population. Not only did minimum sentences add to the explosion in population, but it also added to the racial disparities. This is because one hundred grams of crack cocaine equaled one gram of powdered cocaine in the eyes of the criminal justice system. Crack cocaine is a drug often found in the inner city where people of color and economically disadvantaged people live, compared to powdered cocaine that is used by upper class white individuals.
Judge John Geeson, a U. S. District Judge in the eastern district of New York, claims that an injustice is happening because of minimum sentences because only seven percent of the people affected by minimum sentencing laws are actual kingpins in the drug world (Smith, 2015). Stanley Washington, who was sentenced to life for a nonviolent drug offence, felt that a life sentence is the same thing as a death sentence because both will lead to you dying on state property (Smith, 2015).
The fact is that Ronald Regan’s war on drugs has failed the American people and failed to reduce crime. Sociological Explanation There are many different sides to the issue of sentencing disparities because people claim different causes. One ideology is that a higher social disorganization within the minority community leads to more criminal activity (Higgins, 2010). Social disorganization occurs most in the inner cities, often where minority individuals live.
Characterized by high residential mobility, poverty, low education, mix land use (different income levels), heterogeneity, and high unemployment. Within these communities live a true melting pot and with the melting pot comes communication failures which lead to crime because people do not understand each other nor their beliefs about what is acceptable or not. These characteristics foster criminal activity, which often fosters gang activity.
Criminal norms are transmitted generation to generation and juveniles will learn from older juveniles in the community. Bursik and Grasmick believe contributing factors are lack of relationships between neighbors, lack of friendship network decreasing effective parenting, lack of community surveillance (policing own neighborhood), and inability to work together as a community to demand better services (Higgins, 2010). Simply put, higher social disorganization fosters crime and the need for the criminal justice system to act.
It just so happens that social disorganization is often the highest in minority communities. Possible solutions with this ideology would be to bring in more jobs to these highly disorganized neighborhoods and teach the working age individuals how to apply for a job and possible job skills. Enacting community meetings for adults in the community to foster a sense of community and relationships to help police their children and the community together. Build a community center for youth to spend their time in versus the street.
This will keep the children in the community from learning criminal activity including the gang life. A second ideology is that there is conflict between the people who make the laws and the people they are made to control. Most often called racial threat theory, which states that when the majority feels threatened by the minority (economically or politically) they will take action. This action will be in the form of legislation and the threat does not have to be real. Laws are created and the minority community is strictly targeted by these laws.
Solutions to this problem would be to enact laws that do not specifically target the minority community. Also, ensuring that the police are not using racial profiling to target the minority community when enforcing laws. The third ideology is complete denial that sentencing disparities occur. The solution to this would be increased research on the subject and publishing the finding. Simply educating the public that these things are occur. When the public calls for change then the government will be forced to enact changes.
Even simple facts like, the probability of a black felon being sentenced to prison is 26 percent higher than that of a white individual who committed a felony, even though the Supreme Court has stated that strictly one’s race cannot be used to determine ones guilt or punishment (Sutton, 2013). Effects on the Community and Individual These consequences include job loss, family separation, and recidivism due to a lack of reintegration (Smith, 2015). Without a job often times an individual loses hope, has a large amount of idle times, and soon finds themselves doing the same thing that sent them to jail.
The family of the convicted criminal is forgotten along with the criminal once sentencing is complete. Mothers and fathers lose a child, children lose a parent, and siblings lose a brother or sister to the criminal justice system. Often times criminals brought home some form of money, legal or illegal, to help care for their family. There are 1. 1 million fathers in jail who cannot teach their children that violence, gangs, and drugs are not the right choices in life (Smith, 2015).
Children need parents to help mold them into well rounded individuals. The stress and strain of a single parent family can be too much to bear in today’s society. Recidivism occurs most often when an individual is released without the proper support and tools for success. These tools can included medical care and a place to receive their medication for free or very low cost. Many of the individuals released from the system are mentally unstable and need the medication to maintain a sense of normalcy.
Transportation and resources to look and acquire a job; this can include transportation to interview or daily transportation once the individual has a job, writing a resume, obtaining proper clothes for an interview, or even where to look for a job. All of these things can be difficult without the proper support resources from the community. Conclusion It is abundantly clear that sentencing disparities exist in our criminal justice system. The first step to fixing the problem is to admit that there is one. The second step is to understand the causes and finally enact changes.
The changes must be later evaluated and improved until there is no longer a problem. Disparities do exist in the American criminal justice system and do have negative consequences on the black population. With the help of racial threat theory and social disorganization theory we now can understand how sentencing disparities came to be such a problem. A major change would be to eliminate mandatory sentencing and allow judges to have more discretion when sentencing. Any change should be given ample time to make a difference and then research done by a nonbiased party should be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness.