CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Criminal Justice Reform cannot wait for Congress or the Texas Legislature to act. The racial disparity between how people of color are treated in our criminal justice system is evident in nearly every area—from arrest to sentencing.
People of color are far more likely to be detained and searched than whites (NYCLU, 2015). In addition, people of color are more likely to be arrested than whites. People of color make up 30 percent of the population of the United States and yet people of color make up 60 percent of the country’s prison population (Kirby, 2015). According to The Sentencing Project, 1 in 3 black men can expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime, and 1 in 6 Latinos can expect to be imprisoned in their lifetimes, compared to 1 in 17 white men (The Sentencing Project, 2015).
School to Prison Pipeline
The disparity often starts in the schools and how students of color are disciplined. In a report prepared by the Council on State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, found that non-white students were especially likely to be removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons and students who were suspended or expelled were at an increased risk of coming into contact with the juvenile justice system (Fabelo, 2011).
The evidence suggests that students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white counterparts. While there may be additional factors, harsher punishment and suspensions can lead to the contact with the criminal justice system and much of it begins with how schools discipline students of color. The statistics are startling. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement (Kirby, 2015).
The War on Drugs
Perhaps the single greatest factor leading to disproportionate incarceration of people of color is the so called “War on Drugs”. According to the ACLU, “The War on Drugs has been a war on communities of color. The racial disparities are staggering: Despite the fact that white and black people use drugs at similar rates, black people are jailed on drug charges 10 times more often than white people are. Black people are also three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people are (ACLU, 2014).”
The irony is that while people of color are disproportionately incarcerated for drug crimes our community is no safer.
Disparity at Sentencing
Nowhere is racial disparity more evident than at sentencing. Specifically, incarceration rates disproportionately impact color men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men (Kirby, 2015). Blacks and Latinos face significantly greater odds of incarceration than similarly situated whites and receive longer sentences (ACLU, 2014).
The Death Penalty
In no other area of the criminal justice system are the stakes of racial disparity higher than the application of the death penalty. Of the 271 people on Death Row in Texas, 195 are people of color compared to 76 whites (Death Penalty Information Center, 2015).
According to the Atlantic, “We’ve long known that the death penalty disproportionately kills people of color (Ford, 2014).”
Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform
We must choose treatment over incarceration and stop filling our jails and prisons with drug offenders. We must admit that the war on drugs is a failure.
We must invest in drug diversion and addiction programs. Drug addiction and dependence is often at the root of crimes, and judges need to provide additional options to offenders with potential to reform.
We must expand the Youthful Offender Program which targets high risk youthful offenders who need an opportunity to change. It provides supervision, intervention, and connects offenders to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have.
We must also expand the felony pre-trial diversion program. Real criminal justice reform begins with judges willing to give a second chance to young nonviolent offenders seeking to avoid a felony label that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
We must adhere to the State Bar of Texas Guidelines and Standards for Capital Trial Counsel and the American Bar Association’s Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases to insure that anyone charged with capital murder receive a fair trial and adequate representation regardless of color.
“Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice.” Racial Disparity. The American Civil Liberties Union. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
“The Sentencing Project News – Racial Disparity.” The Sentencing Project News – Racial Disparity. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
“Stop-and-Frisk Data | New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) – American Civil Liberties Union of New York State.” Stop-and-Frisk Data | New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) – American Civil Liberties Union of New York State. 7 Sept. 2015. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
“Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice.” American Civil Liberties Union. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
“Race of Death Row Inmates Executed Since 1976.” Race of Death Row Inmates Executed Since 1976. Death Penalty Information Center. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
Kirby, Sophia. “The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States.” Center For American Progress. 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
Ford, Matt. “Racism and the Execution Chamber.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 23 June 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
Fabelo Ph.D, Tony, and Et Al. “Breaking School Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement.” CSG Justice Center. College Station: Public Policy Research Institute, Texas A&M U & Council of State Governments Justice Center,, 1 July 2011. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
“ACLU Submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Racial Disparities in Sentencing.” American Civil Liberties Union. 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.