The criminal justice system encompasses all the aspects of law enforcement that are directly involved in the arrest, prosecution, defense, sentencing, and punishment of individuals convicted of crimes or suspected of doing them. In recent years, the advocates of criminal justice system reforms have called for the correction of various structural issues in the system that impede fairness and justice, such as racial profiling, mass incarceration, overcriminalization, and police brutality. However, bias and bigotry continue to impede the reforms. Notably, bias is inclination or prejudice against a person or group. On the other hand, bigotry comprises unreasonable attachment to one’s beliefs or opinion to the point of intolerance. Bias and bigotry impede criminal justice system reforms by impairing decision-making at all levels of the criminal justice system, from arrests to incarcerations and release.
Studies show patterns of racial bias in police arrests in the United States. Specifically, colored minority groups, especially African Americans, tend to be investigated and arrested more frequently than white people. Chaney (2015) reports that in 2013, 92% of the arrest warrants issued by the Ferguson Municipal Court were for African Americans. This staggering statistic illustrates the Ferguson police force’s bias against African Americans. Additionally, police tend to use more force when arresting African Americans than white suspects. According to 2015 data from the US Police-Shooting Database (USPSD), police are 3.49 times more likely to shoot an unarmed, black suspect compared to an unarmed white one (Ross, 2015). Overall, the fact that American police are more likely to investigate, arrest, and use more force on African American suspects than white ones indicates implicit bias. In addition, it implies that many police officers are bigots because they are unwilling to question the stereotypes that black people are more involved in crimes than white ones.
Incarceration and Prosecution
Incarceration in the United States is also made unfair by high levels of bias and bigotry. For example, the criminal justice system incarcerates African American women more than two times white women. This fact is evident from incarceration records across the country. For instance, in 2013, the justice department reported that the imprisonment rate for black females was 113 per 100,000 women, whereas that of white females was only 51 per 100,000 women (Carson, 2014). According to these statistics, the incarceration rate of African American women more than doubled that of white ones in 2013, demonstrating incarceration bias against women of color.
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), black people account for 5% of the drug user population in America. Nonetheless, they comprise 29% of those arrested and 33% of those prosecuted and incarcerated for drug-related crimes (Balko, 2020). This disproportionality demonstrates bias against black people when it comes to incarcerations and prosecutions.
Studies also show a significant amount of bias and bigotry in the suspect and convict release statistics of the US criminal justice system. According to the Supreme Court, suspects at the bond stage are presumed innocent; hence, they have “fundamental rights to liberty and a presumption,” which in turn give them the option of pretrial release (Assefa, 2018). However, some places, such as Cook County, Illinois, tend to use monetary bonds to prevent the release of suspects (Assefa, 2018). Adding this restrictive measure creates a biased system since the bond only benefits the wealthy.
According to Assefa (2018), in cases where monetary bonds are assigned, black suspects often receive amounts almost $10,000 more than white defendants charged with committing the same offenses. Furthermore, black suspects are 2% less likely to be released on their suggestion of a bond and 1.6% more likely to be denied bond with conditions than white suspects (Assefa, 2018). Correspondingly, the white suspects are 2.4% less likely to be detained before their trial than black individuals (Assefa, 2018). These trends are bizarre and indicate prejudice, especially since white defendants granted bond are more likely to be arrested than their black counterparts (Assefa, 2018). These statistics demonstrate that the US criminal justice system shows racial bias in the release of defendants.
Bigotry as a Source of Bias
Fundamentally, most of the racial biases seen in the US criminal justice system stem from bigotry. Studies show that many white people, including those in law enforcement, obstinately believe in certain negative stereotypes about African Americans, which lead to implicit bias when dealing with black people. According to a study on cognitive psychology, often, when white judges make bond decisions, they have limited information about a defendant, causing them to subconsciously rely on racial stereotypes when making their decision (Assefa, 2018).
In conclusion, bias and bigotry are pervasive throughout the criminal justice system, leading to injustice. There exist traces of prejudice, especially of a racial nature, in arrests, incarceration, and release. For example, police officers tend to arrest and use more deadly force on black individuals than white people. Additionally, black individuals have a greater predisposition to the risk of being arrested and denied release than their white counterparts. The reforms of the criminal justice system must address these biases and bigotry to facilitate more justice for those it serves.
Assefa, L. S. (2018). Assessing dangerousness amidst racial stereotypes: An analysis of the role of racial bias in bond decisions and ideas for reform. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 108(4), 653-678.
Balko, R. (2020). There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal justice system is racist. Here’s the proof. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/opinions/systemic-racism-police-evidence-criminal-justice-system/#Prison
Carson, E. A. (2014). Prisoners in 2013. Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ247282, 1-31. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf
Chaney, C. (2015). Institutional racism: Perspectives on the department of justice’s investigation of the Ferguson police department. Western Journal of Black Studies, 39(4), 311-329.
Ross, C. T. (2015). A multi-level Bayesian analysis of racial bias in police shootings at the county-level in the United States, 2011–2014. PLoS One, 10(11)http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141854