Discrimination Essay

Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System (CJS)


The CJS is a wide category that includes the country’s law enforcement agencies, the court systems, and the prisons. An individual enters the CJS after they are arrested, after which they move through various stages of the system like appearing for court, being sentenced, and serving time in prison. People do not always enter the criminal justice system because they are guilty. Often, people are detained and arrested for crimes that they have not committed. While such people may be set free when the error made is discovered, sometimes they end up getting imprisoned for many years before the error is realized. Such errors mostly arise as a result of a human system that is fallible. However, there are cases when such errors and unfairness in the criminal justice system occur as a result of racial discrimination and stereotypes, rather than as a result of human mistakes. In the United States, minorities have been subjected to discrimination in the CJS for many years. Such discrimination has had a huge impact on the lives of African-American and Hispanic communities. In this paper, the various aspects and evidence of discrimination within the CJS are outlined. The various causes of such discrimination will also be discussed and recommendations on policies to reduce racial discrimination in the CJS provided.

Racial Discrimination in the CJS

Racial discrimination in the CJS can be identified in all the aspects and processes of the various stages of the system. Over the past decade, police profiling has been condemned for its focus on African Americans and the abuse inflicted on minorities. Hispanics and African Americans are stopped by the police at a rate that is much higher than that of white people (Quigley, 2011). In large cities, almost 80 percent of police stops involve people of color, which shows discrimination since people of color only make up approximately half the population in major cities. Research also shows that racial profiling occurs during police stops, as people of color are three times much more likely to be searched or pat-down than white people (Mauer, 2010). According to a study by Banks (2017), in 2002, 39 percent of the percentage of young drivers stopped in the United States were Latinos and people of color. Also, all the people of color stopped were searched physically and their vehicles searched during the police stops.

In the United States, people of color make up the largest percentage of people who are arrested for crimes. After arrest, they find themselves at a disadvantage since they mostly come from low-income communities. They are not able to afford an attorney, which results in reliance on a public defendant (Mauer, 2010). The trial wait time for African Americans is longer than for white people. According to Quigley (2011), more than often, black people end up being detained for longer compared to white people while waiting for felony trials and sentences. In the selection of court juries during trials, African Americans are often discriminated against, sometimes not being chosen for criminal court cases. Black people have a very high likelihood of being removed from jury lists than white people for death penalty cases (Quigley, 2011). While this clearly shows discrimination, prosecutors continue to argue that they are just trying to build the best jury and that they are not being discriminatory.

A study conducted on more than 70, 000 criminal cases in the United States showed that while federal prosecutors can request for shorter sentences for defendants who are sympathetic or salvageable, they are less likely to request such sentences for Hispanic and black male defendants (Banks, 2017). Moreover, when such requests are made for Hispanic or Black defendants, the sentence reduction is an average of 6 months less than the sentence reduction for white defendants. This means that the length of time for sentencing is largely racially divided and that Blacks and Hispanics charged with equal crimes to those of white people are likely to receive longer sentences than white people (Banks, 2017).

According to Caravelis, Chiricos, and Bales (2011), Blacks and Latinos have a higher likelihood of being sentenced as habitual offenders in counties where they are the minority group. This is because of a high level of racism and the growing populations of these groups in various counties. Studies have shown that more than 60 percent of prison inmates are African Americans and Hispanics (Banks, 2017). African American males are more than five times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Hispanic white males. The rate of Hispanic males being imprisoned in the country is approximately two and a half times higher than the rate of non-Hispanic males being imprisoned. When a victim of a crime is a white person, a black defendant will most likely be executed, with defendants’ and victims’ ethnic background in murder cases playing a huge role in sentencing (Flatow, 2013).

Causes and Outcomes of Discrimination in the CJS

Racism continues to be the most significant and common cause of discrimination within the CJS. Racism still exists within American society. It motivates the overt bias that shows in the conduct, policies, assumptions, decisions, and strategies of the criminal justice agencies. Instances of bias usually lead to the improper use of discretion amongst the actors in the criminal justice agencies. Even though the government and other players have over the years put in place safeguards to minimize and address racism, it still flourished behind the scenes, especially in the CJS. There is a need to address racism in the CJS and the society in general to regulate racial discrimination and racial disparity in the prisons.

Legislation at the federal, state and local levels influences the actions and operations of the CJS through the enactment of laws that define unlawful behavior, the various penalties for violating enacted laws, and the process through which cases are disposed and sentences determined. Legislation by county and city authorities has to be enforced by the police and the courts. Some of these laws impact minority communities disproportionately, which explains why discrimination and racial disparity exists in the CJS. A good example of such laws is a series of drug regulation and control policies that are today known as the War on Drugs (United States Sentencing Commission, 1995). These laws have had a significant impact on the composition and number of people who are arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses. As earlier noted, people of color are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned at rates that are higher than that of white people. This is mostly as a result of law enforcement practices that are related to drug sentencing laws in the country. Policies such as the mandatory sentencing for drug offenders result in racial disparity in the criminal justice system, as petty offenders end up getting long sentences.

While legislation and policies such as the War on Drugs are to blame for racial disparity in the criminal justice system, especially in the inmate population, racism is largely to blame for the general discrimination that occurs from the time of arrest up to the trial of suspects. The causes of such discrimination are firmly rooted in a long history of discriminatory decision making and oppression, which have targeted black people over the years. These have been executed through an untrue narrative of criminality, both implicitly and consciously. Decision-makers in the criminal justice system are biased, resulting in discrimination against black people and Hispanics. These groups are more likely to be stopped by the police, be detained for long before a trial, charged with serious crimes, and receive harsh sentences more than white people.

Bias and discrimination within the CJS have resulted in minority communities, especially black people and Hispanics, becoming overpoliced, over-incarcerated, impoverished, and suffering (The Leadership Conference, 2008). With the over-incarceration of young males who form the working population of these communities, the communities are left without young, energetic men that can work and earn a living. The health and economic opportunity of the community is affected, as well as the capacity for wealth accumulation. The capacity of future generations to create and accumulate wealth is also crippled, as families are broken when young men end up in prison for many years. Discrimination also negatively affects the mental health of people in minority communities. As a result of increased stigma, suffering, and difficult life, young people from minority communities end up engaging in criminal activities. This is also an outcome of the lack of equal employment and education opportunities in the country.

Strategies for Reducing Discrimination in the CJS

To minimize the cases of racial discrimination in the CJS, the following strategies can be implemented in the various stages of the system:

  1. Law enforcement: respectful and fair policing practices such as community policing, respect for individual rights during police stops and checks, and inclusion of minority community representatives in policing.
  2. Pretrial: provision of education and advocacy on the importance of people being presumed innocent until proven guilty; protection of the rights of defendants; and ensuring that the only goals of bail issuance are to minimize the risk of flight and to minimize the danger that the defendant may pose to the community, rather than punishing an individual.
  3. Prosecution and defense: challenging any disproportionate representation in the jury pool; reduction of racial bias in policing and sentencing by training judges and the police on the importance of fairness and disadvantages of racism on the minority communities; and ensuring fairness in the representation of defendants.
  4. Prisons: ensuring routine monitoring of racial tensions between prison staff and inmates; regular review of cultural awareness programs within the prison system; and ensuring a smooth transition from prison to life after prison to increase prospects for successful offender reintegration into society.


Banks, C. (2017). Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice. (4th Edition). [MBS Direct]. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from https://mbsdirect.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781506326078/

Caravelis, C., Chiricos, T., & Bales, W. (2011). Static and Dynamic Indicators of Minority Threat in Sentencing Outcomes: A Multi-Level Analysis. Journal Of Quantitative Criminology, 27(4), 405-425.

Mauer, M. (2010). Justice for All? Challenging Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System. Human Rights, 37(4). Retrieved February 28, 2020, from http://www.americanbar.org/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/human_rights_vol37_2010/fall2010/justice_for_all_challenging_racial_disparities_criminal_justice_system.html

Quigley, B. (2011, May 25). Fourteen Examples of Racism in Criminal Justice System. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/fourteen-examples-of-raci_b_658947.html

The Leadership Conference. (2008). Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/cerd-report-falling-further-behind/discrimination-in-the.html?referrer=http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/cerd-report-falling-further-behind/falling-further-behind.html

United States Sentencing Commission. (1995). Special report to the Congress: Cocaine and federal sentencing policy. United States Sentencing Commission.

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