The United States correctional system is biased against people of color– specifically Black, Native, and Latino people– and lower income people, which are statistically linked. Despite these racial and ethnic categories making up a miniscule proportion of the country’s people, they are several times more likely to have negative police encounters and be processed by the criminal justice system. Racial and class discrimination are largely present in the laws, policing, judicial process, and correctional systems. These biases can be eliminated by increasing access to lawmakers for underrepresented people, outlawing for-profit correctional facilities, eliminating mandatory sentencing for drug charges, and enforcing the prohibition of excessive bail.
The process in which laws are created, and their implementation, often reflect biases against people of color and poor people. Access to lawmakers and minimal understanding of the implications of the laws (as a result of poor education) is largely denied to or restricted from, primarily, poor people. As a result, laws are implemented to directly target marginalized groups. The textbook cites vagrancy, or homelessness, as a prime example of a crime that only poor people can commit and only benefits more affluent populations. Additionally, since many laws that currently exist already target these marginalized groups, many may feel disempowered to vote on new laws that may be discriminatory, which results in more discriminatory laws and further disempowerment. Law implementation is also biased against these same groups of people. The power elite encourages specific laws, and categories of laws, to be taken as more problematic than those which they are often engaged in. For example, blue-collar criminals such as protestors are more likely to be introduced to the criminal justice system than white-collar criminals committing embezzlement and stock fraud.
Further in the criminal justice assembly line is the enforcement by police of the corruptly created laws. People of color, despite only making up a small portion of the population, are arrested up to eight times more than White people. Additionally, people of color are significantly more likely to be detained, stopped, and harassed by police officers. Excessive police force, or police brutality, victimizes almost exclusively racial minorities, especially men. Practices, like “Stop and Frisk” in New York, reinforce or generate racist ideologies in police officers, which further increases the victimization and disproportionate amount of police encounters for people of color. For example, over 80% of searched automobiles in New Jersey were driven by Black and Latino individuals.
Only those arrested are actually entered into the judicial system, and as such, it literally starts with racial and socioeconomic discrimination. Additionally, magistrates often illegally set excessively high bail, disregarding the assumption of innocence and the Eighth Amendment. They do so for two primary reasons, according to the textbook: to teach the defendant a lesson, and to protect the community. Both of these reasons should be considered illegal, but are common, especially so for defendants of color and poor defendants. Not only is this practice constitutionally forbidden by the Eighth Amendment, but it also imposes a rather transparent class bias; for example, a $15,000 bail is close to the average yearly income for minorities, but may seem relatively cheap for affluent defendants. This practice also completely disregards the presumption of innocence which all defendants are supposed to have, until proven otherwise. Additionally, white-collar crimes are not violent (stock fraud, embezzlement, etc.), resulting in less assumed danger and relatively lower bail. As such, poor and minority defendants are seen by the community as more dangerous, simply because they cannot afford bail or commit “scarier” crimes than their white-collar counterparts, despite the fact that they are all completely innocent at this time.
The privatization and spawn of for-profit prisons has hugely increased prison populations in the United States. Now, roughly a quarter of all prison inmates in the world are in the United States. Furthermore, a large majority of prison inmates in the U.S. are racial minorities– Black men are imprisoned 7x more than White men, despite being only about 15% of the country’s population. Private prisons, though ultimately a product of increasing prison populations caused by the War on Drugs, have increased the need to imprison as many inmates as possible, as they are a major source of cheap/slave labor in the country. Several conglomerate corporations exploit the populations of privatized prisons to create cheap goods, worker uniforms, and harvest resources. Though the racial makeup of the prison population is a product of the racist and classist systems earlier-in-the-chain, profiting off of prison inmates encourages police officers to arrest as many people as possible, and the judicial system to convict as many people as possible. Those who face the brunt of this discrimination are largely racial minorities, unfortunately, as it is significantly easier to deem a minority group a “problem” than the majority. The size of the Black and Latino prison populations further allow the police and judicial system to continue to convict many, often completely innocent, people of color, as the community is able to see those populations’ size as more criminals fitting in that racial group. This assumption, of course, is flawed, as the populations in and out of prison are seriously disproportionate to each other.