Criminal Justice System: Racial Disparities and Inequality


On many occasions, the American criminal justice system has been accused of being racist. Such disparities turn into racial discrimination if people are treated differently by the justice system because of their ethnicity.

For example, African Americans are arrested for drug offenses at more than twice the rate of whites, even though the African American youths have substantially lower rates of the most legal and illegal drugs’ use. For example, the study by Warde (2013) reports that although blacks represent only less than 15% of the population, they are accounted for more than 25% of all arrests and 40% of imprisoned individuals. Moreover, generally, one in three African Americans born in the US spend time in prison at some point in their lives, compared to one in seventeen whites.

In most cases, reforming the system depends on how the problem is defined in terms of racist attitudes or social disparities related to race. To some people, however, the genesis of what is being experienced has to do with the fact that American society is largely racist. Thus, the elimination of racism from the criminal justice system is not likely to occur because the system is embedded into a larger racist society.

The role of racism in American society will be discussed below. Some people believe that the relationship between racism and the criminal justice system is a reciprocal one. It can be argued that racist institutions affect the establishment of a higher crime rate among minorities, as well as prejudices against the people of color, and help to justify treating them more harshly when they are found guilty. Minority groups in the US are thus disadvantaged in many ways.

This paper discusses the approach to criminal justice related to minority groups in the United States. Because of their color or race, blacks and Hispanics, as well as other minority citizens in the United States are often subjected to partial treatment unlike their white counterparts for committing similar crimes. The paper also considers the effects of racial discrimination within the criminal justice system and suggests ways to deal with the menace. The report argues that the current criminal justice system is unfair and racist against the minority population.

Crime Statistics

The way criminals are treated in a democratic society such as the United States is a very important consideration. To gain the respect of the minority groups in the United States, the US government should do everything within its reach to ensure that the criminal justice system treats all citizens equally. It is common sense that citizens will only develop confidence injustice when they see that criminal justice officials respect the Constitution.

It is possible to suggest that the American criminal justice system uses the unequal treatment of minorities at every stage of the criminal process. To a large extent, the mistreatment of blacks, Hispanic Americans, and other minority groups is perpetrated by people who are meant to protect the law.

By and large, African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are subjected to the criminal justice system at much higher rates than the white majority. African Americans account for more than 25% of all arrests and more than one-third of all cases of imprisonment in the United States, although less than 15% of the people in America are people of color (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2012). Also, blacks make up almost 40% of the prison population (Warde, 2013). If the trend continues, nearly one-third of the African American children born in the present generation will end up in prison during their lifetimes. This issue is concerning and requires public attention.

Racism in American Society

As mentioned above, some people claim that the American criminal justice system is prejudiced because racism is embedded in society. For example, Justice and Meares (2014) report that discrimination against race can be found in American educational programs that are supposed to be purely academic. It means that students may acquire biased perspectives due to the flaws of the educational system. Moreover, Rollock (2014) reports that racism in the workplace is common as well. Minority groups are highly present in low paid employment; they report to have little economic advantages compared to whites. Also, many of the unemployed American citizens are people of color (Rollock, 2014).

Another evidence of racism in the American society shows up in the stereotyping of offenders and reflects that under some circumstances, perceptions of certain minority groups as threatening may increase the extent to which they are subject to arrest. Thus, the fact that the Asian American defendants in federal courts receive sentences similar to those of whites and less severe than those imposed on African Americans and Hispanics may show the courtroom decision-makers depict the society’s negative stereotypes about defendants from the latter two groups.

Racial discrimination is evident in prison sentencing as well. For instance, Kim and Kiesel (2018) report that law enforcement practices during an arrest are a significant reason for the high level of minorities’ presentation in prison. Black males born in the 1960s have a 20% risk of incarceration, while white males are at less than 5% risk (Kim & Kiesel, 2018).

The fact that racist stereotyping affects police actions can be seen in cases of African Americans and Hispanic professionals who have been arrested by mistake. In these cases, the police knew that the suspect was a person of color, and falsely arrested innocent people. For example, judge Claude Coleman was handcuffed and dragged through crowds of shoppers in Short Hills, New Jersey, while protesting his innocence. In another incident, Princeton University professor, Cornel West, was stopped because of false cocaine charges while traveling to Williams College. Brain Roberts was also pulled over by the police as he drove through an affluent St. Louis neighborhood on his way to interview a judge for a class project (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2012).

In June 2009, nationally prominent Harvard University Professor, Henry Louis Gates, an African American man, was arrested for arguing with a police officer on the front porch of his home (McNeil, 2014). It happened because a passerby, who saw Gates struggling with a broken lock on his front door, called the police to report a possible break-in. Gates perceived that race played a role in the officer’s motives for asking for his identification and entering the house without justification.

Other observers discussed whether the officer arrested Professor Gates primarily for showing disrespect to the officer notwithstanding the accusations of racism in the case. This case supports the findings of the study by Hetey and Eberhardt (2018), who report that in Oakland, 60% of police stops happen with African Americans, although they represent less than 30% of the population of the city. Also, Wu (2014) reports that race and ethnicity play a significant role in perceptions of the police and can lead to a negative and biased attitude.

Racism in the American Justice System

Racial discrimination in the US criminal justice system has a long history. From 1930, when the federal government started maintaining an informational index on executions in the United States, death penalty jurisdictions have executed thousands of condemned prisoners. The majority of all those executed were blacks (Levinson, Smith, and Young, 2014). Evidence shows that death penalty jurisdictions have disproportionately executed minority prisoners when compared to their overall representation in the general population. While people of color constitute the majority of all executed prisoners, they represent only a small percentage of the entire US population (Warde, 2013).

Racial discrimination as witnessed within the criminal justice systems affects all minority groups regardless of whether they are guilty (Solanke, 2012). It is possible to say that, currently, although this problem has gained increased public attention, the minority populations continue to experience discrimination. They are harassed on the streets, at their homes, and any other social place because of their skin color (Siegel & Senna, 2006).

These issues may be intimidating, cause emotional distress, and result in a poor mental state. Moreover, discrimination interferes with the lives of minorities and establishes an unsafe environment for them. Another concern is that underrepresented communities may receive harsher punishment when involved in unlawful activities, which is also the case of discrimination.

On numerous occasions, minorities have been treated unfairly by the US drug policies. As noted earlier, the treatment directed at minorities has nothing to do with the assumption that they are the ones responsible for most crimes, unlike the whites. Both minorities and white Americans get involved in drug-related criminal activities. The inappropriate approach taken to eliminate drugs is based on three issues. They include the number of minority citizens arrested based on drug-related offenses, the presence of severe sentencing for drug offenses, and the unfair treatment of the minority groups.

Racism and Incarceration

Racial discrimination can be witnessed in areas dominated by blacks and other minority groups (Solanke, 2012). As mentioned above, the majority of incarcerated individuals are people of color, which allows for the suggestion that it happens due to racism, not their proneness to be involved in unlawful actions. Thus, minorities should not be perceived as criminals because most of them suffer from discrimination.

Subjecting minority citizens to unfairness throughout the criminal justice system points to the pronounced inequality that continues to be witnessed all over the United States. This significant flaw of the criminal justice system leads to the wrong public perception that blacks, Hispanics, and other minority citizens are the greatest offenders in the country. On the other hand, whites are considered less dangerous; this claim cannot be fully supported due to the bias of the system.

Critics of the criminal justice system view the high rates of arrests and imprisonment for African Americans and other minorities as a clear indication of racial discrimination. Although the law contains no racial bias, these critics claim that discrimination can and does always occur because criminal justice officials exercise discretion (Howell, 2014). However, although this problem can be considered natural and unavoidable, it is vital to address the issue and eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

However, some people may still argue that the disparities in arrests, sentencing, and imprisonment can be explained by the tendency of involving in unlawful activities that can be observed among the populations of color. Although race and ethnicity do not explain all the disparities that exist, they are important factors that can affect the criminal justice system and should not be ignored. Evidence indicates persistent patterns of racial and ethnic disparities in the critical decision points of arrests and sentencing (Wu, 2014). The public perceptions of crime and criminals may be affected by various factors; race profiling is a significant one of them.

It may be suggested minorities receive more punitive treatment compared to their privileged counterparts. Racial minorities who commit crimes such as drug offenses or violent crimes against whites, or who have certain types of characteristics, are treated worse than whites who commit similar crimes or have the same characteristics. It may result in the inability of people of color to apply for jobs and lead to decreased economic advantages (Decker, Ortiz, Spohn, & Hedberg, 2015).

Minorities and Law Enforcers

Law enforcement agents have been accused of perpetrating injustice right from the initial stages of dealing with crime. At every point in the entire criminal justice system process, blacks and Hispanics can be unfairly targeted. Unfortunately, the police departments are not helping to address the problem of race, instead, they contribute to the development of the problem by implementing biased perceptions into their practice (Wu, 2014).

Representatives of the police are the ones involved in the illegal arrests and thus play a significant role in getting African Americans, Hispanics, and other minority groups into prisons. They may employ crude techniques while dealing with minority groups and this leads to dishonest treatment. Racist issues that inform policing strategies in the United States today cause public mistrust in the criminal justice system as a whole and initiate a cycle of criminalization within underrepresented populations.

The unfavorable treatment of the minority groups may lead to the strengthening of biased perspectives. Law enforcers become prejudiced and subject innocent minorities to the treatment guilty individuals receive. In addition to the humiliation, minority citizens encounter brutality and prejudice from the police, which may cause significant harm to their physical and mental state (Wu, 2014). To many, the impartial treatment of the American citizens is not right especially when the act is committed by a person who is supposed to be protecting other citizens.

The police can be informed about a criminal case in many ways. People may eyewitness it or report their suspicions considering others, which may also be biased. However, it is common for the police to make their discoveries concerning criminal activities. While doing their rounds, the police representatives work as a team and take turns assisting each other to deal with any problem encountered. The police usually hold the responsibility of determining suspects and the circumstances of a crime. They are also left to make decisions regarding any further investigations if needed and the neighborhoods to be targeted during police patrols. It means that, with existing discrimination and biased perception of people of color, this system may lead to false accusations and arrests.

As mentioned above, racial profiling based on the color of one’s skin is a significant concern. In most cases, blacks are arrested based on the assumption that they are the ones who are likely to be involved in criminal activities. Racial profiling is a negative practice that should be strongly criticized by the US government and citizens. As mentioned above, currently, most criminal statistics involve minority citizens and relatively few white individuals.

Unfortunately, law enforcers may use this claim to justify their attitude towards minority groups. This assumption, though baseless, is held by some advantaged populations and is responsible for the unfair treatment that blacks and Hispanics are often subjected to.

Another possible concern, in this case, is that to law enforcers, it is easier to arrest criminals by tracking minorities based on the assumption that they are likely to commit crimes rather than investigating the real circumstances of criminal cases. There is, however, no evidence to support such allegations by the police and other law enforcement officers. However, the effects of racism and discrimination may affect minorities significantly and it is vital to consider them while making assumptions about the background of their behavior.

Effects of Discrimination

The challenges faced by minority citizens because of racial discrimination have far-reaching effects including failure to secure employment due to the existing stereotypes. Due to unequal treatment, some individuals may start to believe that minority citizens are criminals and thus treat them with much suspicion and mistrust. Consequently, many blacks, Hispanics, and other minority citizens are unable to provide for themselves and their families.

Decker et al. (2015) report that former prisoners, even if they were treated unfairly, may encounter challenges while returning to society and looking for a job. The stigma associated with parolees prevents these individuals from obtaining securing employment. At the same time, the same study shows that the history of imprisonment is not as significant for the white population, as their position in the job market remains more stable compared to minorities’ one.

Socially, minority citizens are seriously affected as a result of racial discrimination experienced within the criminal justice system. The mistreatment of minority citizens because of the race they belong to or their ethnicity creates a negative notion of who they are. Together with their children, minority groups are labeled as bad people in American society and have to be dealt with very cautiously. As a result, people of color encounter weakened family relationships, poor and inadequate housing, and poverty (Decker et al., 2015). These issues often lead to impaired mental state and substance abuse.

Consequently, this influences their decisions related to accommodation, the choice of educational institutions for their children to attend, their habits and hobbies, as well as where and how they spend their leisure time. The unfair treatment directed towards the minority groups eventually puts their children in a disadvantaged position and decreases their ability to show high performance in class and compete with their white counterparts in general. Because of the schools they attended, they are generally considered to be inferior to their economically and socially advantaged classmates, which may affect their self-perception as well.

The unfair actions of the police and other law enforcers directed towards minority citizens may complicate their life significantly. Essentially, being treated badly because of race is unacceptable and should be opposed. Many have resisted the idea of racial profiling based on the reasoning that it magnifies the effects of racial discrimination and gives people a reason to treat others as lesser beings and with no respect at all. In the end, crime is determined by one’s race such that minorities are regarded as more dangerous criminals than their white counterparts. Minority citizens thus become victims of stereotypes and suffer even though they are not guilty of any crime.

Ordinarily, innocent minorities are the ones who suffer most due to the existence of an unfair criminal justice system. Because of the harsh treatment experienced by minorities, they develop negative attitudes and mistrust for the criminal justice system and towards the law enforcement officers. It is evident that some representatives of minorities may not experience discrimination of the criminal justice system and are not affected by its flaws directly. However, the underrepresented population in general experiences significant challenges due to discussed issues.

Possible Solutions

The repercussions of racial disparities in the criminal justice system remain a problem that the criminal justice policymakers in the United States must deal with. Three possible solutions have been identified. First, it is necessary to open up the correction systems to greater participation by people who come from the groups historically disadvantaged by the disparate treatment. Minorities’ families may repeat the same behavioral pattern influenced by their mental state and public perceptions, which can be eliminated with the help of correction systems and support groups.

Secondly, the US government and the Americans must refuse to tolerate incidents of blatant racism in the justice practices or policy. The report shows that the effect of racism on the underrepresented population is evident and it is vital for advantaged groups to support their minority counterparts. Finally, it is necessary to recognize that as long as racism is in force in the larger society, any attempts to eradicate it from the criminal justice system will have only marginal prospects of success. As long as some groups are unfairly excluded from society’s opportunities, they will feel less obligated to obey its laws. This point suggests a strong connection between public perceptions of individuals and their behavior, which should be improved to eliminate negative outcomes, such as false accusations and incarcerations.


The paper shows that racism and discrimination are acute problems of the American criminal justice system. Criminal justice officials mustn’t act in the ways that lead to disparities in arrest and incarceration rates. At each stage of the process, policymakers must see to it that the system does not put minority group members at a disadvantage. Consequently, higher arrest rates and prosecutions of minorities in the United States will create a scenario where they will be overspread among those receiving criminal punishment, including prison sentences. Considering the many negative repercussions of racial discrimination within the American criminal justice system, policymakers must do all it takes to ensure fairness within the system. It is certainly inhuman to make people suffer because of their race or ethnicity.


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LawBirdie. 2023. "Criminal Justice System: Racial Disparities and Inequality." March 27, 2023.

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LawBirdie. "Criminal Justice System: Racial Disparities and Inequality." March 27, 2023.