Is the Criminal Justice System Racially Biased?


Most criminologist use two sources of criminal justice data in the
United States: the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the National Crime
Victimization Surveys (NCVS). The URC data is made from law enforcement
agencies and include crime incidents reported to or obtained by the police.
NCVS data is obtained from a very complex national survey of a sample of homes
and provide information about crime incidents and victims for both reported and
unreported crimes, excluding homicide. For my report I obtained research
information from questionnaires and from several text books. I gave the
questionnaire concerning bias in the criminal justice system to four whites,
four blacks, one Asia, and one Mexican. Although this sample is not
representative of racial attitudes in general, it can used to develop a better
sense of differences among students.
To discuss my findings fully I must define a few terms. The Criminal
Justice System is the network of agencies that respond to crime, including the
police, courts, jails, and prisons. Minority Group is a group of people who,
because of physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out for
differential and different and who regard them as objects of collective
discrimination. Discrimination is the act of singling out for unfair treatment.
Labeling is stereotyping, or putting a tag on someone, and treating them
accordingly. Self-fulling Prophecy is an expectation about how things will be
the situations that they predicted or expected. Finally, Differential
Association is the idea that interacting with others learns criminal behavior.
It is no secret whites and blacks in America experience life differently
because of their race. Therefore, whites and blacks view the criminal justice
system differently. My research found 70% of those studied agree the courts do
not offer equal treatment. Although both agree that the system is biased,
whites seem to have a more positive view about the whole system, while Blacks
feel the system is corrupt and works\' against them. 50% of my non-white sample
and 20% of my white sample felt the courts discriminate. James Henslin, author
of the text Social Problems, states "[Violent crime] recedes with income ...
people with higher incomes live in better, more affluent and less violent
neighborhoods"(Henslin 141). The criminal justice system is made up of these
type people, who are mostly white, and they share the same moral community.
Blacks however are on the outskirts of that moral community or in another
different moral community. Ultimately whites and blacks do not relate to and
understand the Criminal Justice System the same for they view and react to the
actions of authorities based on their life experiences caused by race and SES
I stated earlier that blacks and whites are in different moral
communities, this means that the normal excepted behavior for one group is not
the same for the other group. We can prove this with statistics. The median
family income for whites is 38,909 and for blacks it is 21,161. This shows that
blacks earn 54% of what whites earn. In addition, 4% of whites are unemployed,
while 8% of blacks are unemployed. This shows that blacks are unemployed at a
rate of 200% compared with unemployed whites. Also, 9% of whites live in
poverty, compared with 31% of blacks living in poverty. This is an astonishing
figure that states 344% of blacks live in unacceptable conditions compared with
whites. What does all of this mean? Where and how you live decide who you are,
and contribute to labelling. Obviously, blacks have a lower SES and fall
victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy and labels. The problem arises when "the
Criminal Justice System discriminates against these groups of citizens" (Henslin
182).
In William Chambliss\' study of "Saints and Roughnecks" he proved that
social class does matter. People and police in the local community labelled the
lower class kids as worst than the upper-class kids based on their parents\' SES
(Henslin 190). The police also believed this label. They proved discrimination
against the "roughnecks" because they had the discretion to harass and arrest
whoever they wanted. Although both groups participated in the same activities,
the "roughnecks" were harassed worst than the "saints." My research found 100%
of my sample agree police discriminate. Although Chambliss\' study dealt with
high and low class students, our studies can be compared for race coincides with
class status in American society. 60% of my non-white sample felt police
discriminate almost always to sometimes, but 10% felt they do so almost always.
30% of my white sample felt the police discriminate, but that they do so almost
never; the other 10% felt they do so only sometimes.