Hidden Racism A look within the criminal justice system of the United States

Currently, over 319 million people live in the United States and over 2 million of which are encompassed within the wide range of prisons that span the country. That tally is a significant one and once investigated further, there is certainly a trend in terms of which types of people are incarcerated. Thousands of people go to prison every day here in the United States, this means there is a lot for the United States criminal system to deal with and worry about day in and day out. The U.S. prison population has grown about 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing the crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color. Recent graphs have exemplified that one in every 15 African American men and one in every 36 Latino men are incarcerated while on the contrary one in every 106 white men are (Kerby). This leads to the real important question, which is whether or not the United States criminal justice system should be altered due to racist acts?

Many see the criminal justice system as a helping hand and as a place where everything is correct to keep the lives of the American citizens safe and give sense of security. Although this is all very true, through thorough research it was prevalent that incarceration rates are indeed very biased and extremely racist which is calling for some change. Solely looking into the state of New York, one of America’s most well known states it is inevitable that a bigger change must take place. In one prison, not only is their prejudices against those behind bars but as well to those working as officers at the prison which can very easily affect the jail in it’s entirety. It was stated that only one out of 998 guards was African American which is clearly not an evenly present ratio (Winerip). Whether directly or indirectly caused by this factor it was also present in that same prison located in New York that the minority African Americans were about at least four times as likely as whites to be sent to prisons and were held there for an average of 125 days, compared to only 90 days for whites (Winerip). Why this occurs many do not know, this is one of many examples present in the United States of unjust criminal systems. The NY Times went to further investigate this issue and as stated found “[P]rison horror stories featuring guards who beat and torture inmates, knowing that their union will shield them from punishment and that district attorneys in towns dominated by prisons will look the other way. But wanton brutality is only one aspect of a prison system in which there is little respect for the rule of law or human rights” (The Editorial). Of course this came with much racial influence as the African Americans were prime targets. Not only is this a problem in that state of New York but in nearly every state has a disproportionately black prison. Also shows that officers are put above the rest as if they can’t do anything wrong. They are very closely protected by the laws. The prison system for the most part is behind closed doors and many are not bothered to help change the system, nor realize the significant impacts brought upon by time in prison.

In continuation, enduring prolonged amounts of time in prison is can be both mentally and physically strenuous on inmates which is an additional reason to shift some of these preconceived ideas on criminal systems. One great example is the inability to fit back into the mainstream of society once one is released from prison, because it is almost impossible to return to their customs; which, sometimes results in more trouble and sometimes it can even result in a visit back to jail. Although every race does indeed suffer from this lack of treatment and brutality inside of prisons it was found by ATTN that African Americans did have a 2.52 time ratio of being put into solitary over whites (Macarow). It isn't only those minorities such as the latinos or African Americans who end up in solitary; however, they appeared to much more often than white people in the United States. Furthermore, the minorities are also vastly less likely to receive the appropriate and necessary mental health care while in this lockup situation. This leads to greater mental health issues aswell, it can even keep them in solitary confinement for prolonged periods. So it seems in every aspect of the U.S. criminal system there is at least some form of racial presence.

Lastly my book, Monster by Walter Dean Myers has brought up a very interesting point of discussion about racism but more towards the presence and effect of it in trial. To begin, the novel is about a young sixteen year old black boy named Steve who is put on trial for murder and if he loses the case his life will be on the line or will be forced to many years of prison. He is terrified of jail as it will ruin his life, and the story has part themed on racism. It came to my interests since the existence of racism in U.S. is easily seen in the criminal court system, but it is also presence in the federal court system. I do believe that Steve’s race, being black, plays a big role in the story because if Steve was white, they would have let him off with a warning and the trial probably would be dismissed because of his skin tone. Typically, hispanics and blacks are convicted for these sorts of allegations and even if they didn’t do it. I also believe that the only reason Petrocelli, the prosecutor, was so hard on Steve is most likely because he was a young, black individual and there was nothing he could do about it. As O'brien, defensive attorney told young Steve,

“You're young, you're Black, and you're on trial. What else do they need to know?”(Myers).

According to this statement it was thought that the case was already over before the start solely due to race. Many others in the novel believed the same which means that this idea of racism tends to be more of a natured idea rather then nurtured as most people believe the same about the issue. Discrimination at any level against race should not be tolerated especially in terms of sentencing and court cases.

As proven many times throughout history, the American criminal system has protected and saved our lives; however, some of the negative impacts are shielded by preconceived ideas as police and people who serve our country are superior. It is very important to respect them all for their work, however, it is also important to realize that everybody plays a role in society and we have to respect people for who they are including race, gender e.g. As proven throughout this paper and history, the criminal system in the United States has at certain times been very discriminative especially towards Latinos and African Americans and even sometimes this is present in the federal court system. It is at the best interest of the American citizens to understand and take notice of racial inequality and to fight for what is right.


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