Ethical Issue in the Criminal Justice Field Journal

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Criminal Justice

SYSTEMIC MALIGNITY

Racial Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system aims at maintaining social control, enforce laws and administering justice, primarily through law enforcement or police forces, the courts and corrections, in the pursuit of the ideal of justice and fairness (Sentencing Project, 2008). Police work, in particular, is aimed at crime prevention, crime control and the handling of cases when crime occurs. The police conduct a crime investigation, gather evidence and identify the suspects. It is the police who make the first contact with the offender and initiate the mechanics of the criminal justice system by making the arrest after establishing probable cause. They then take the suspect into custody and make him or her go through a process, which includes finger printing, taking mug shots and interrogation. They perform these responsibilities largely on a discretionary basis, characterized by racial disparities and discrimination (Sentencing Project).

Racism and Racial Profiling

Racism or racial disparities affect police behavior, specifically in racial profiling. Racial profiling refers to the stopping and investigating or inspecting persons passing through public places, such as drivers in public highways and pedestrians in airports and other urban areas for the statistical profile of the persons' race or ethnicity (Callahan & Anderson, 2001). The practice has been around for the past many years. Former President George W. Bush considered it wrong and determined to put an end to it in America. Racial profiling links minority groups to drug trafficking and although some claim it is non-existent, others say that there are reports and statistics, which document it. One is about the bold declaration of intent by U.S. Forest Service officers in California's Mendocino National Forest a few years ago to question all Hispanics and stopping their cars in an attempt at stopping marijuana growing in the area. The forest rangers were said to have been ordered to come up with probable cause in stopping their vehicles and searching for marijuana inside. The1999 report of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, which monitors abuses of the American legal system, said that 76% of motorists stopped along a 50-mile stretch from January to September, 1995 were black. Statistics say that 25% of Maryland's population is black. In another case, a police investigator in New Jersey testified that 94% of motorists stopped in a single town were minorities, who were more likely not only to be stopped but also to allow searches in their vehicles. In March, the New York Times reported on the New Jersey police's own investigation of its practices that the drivers who allowed their vehicles to be searched were mainly Hispanics and black (Callahan & Anderson). Still another is the San Antonio Police Department's sloppy police work or inaccurate information (Schott, 2001). And in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Detroit News launched a four-month investigation on the local war on terror in the summer of 2004, which scrutinized mainly the Arab and Muslim immigrants in Metro Detroit. It found that the criminal cases filed against them rose three times to at least 155 in the past few years, with many of them tagged as terror suspects, but the government has proven terror connections with only one in every 50 of these suspects (Schott).

The Fourth Amendment Protection

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the people from unreasonable searches and seizures but the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the subjective motivations of individual police officers in conducting objectively reasonable Fourth Amendment searches and seizures are not unconstitutional (Schott, 2001). Only a few claims of racial profiling can take refuge under the Fourth Amendment if actions are taken against them without reasonable suspicion, probable cause, warrant or an exception to the requirement for a warrant. These few can challenge racially motivated police action by producing evidence against it, usually in the form of statistics, but which are not always definitive proof until analyzed and put into proper context (Schott).

Inaccurate data entries and overall sloppy police recording, as shown by an investigation on the records of the San Antonio Police Department (Schott, 2001); the three-and-a-half times increase in federal prosecution of Arabs and Muslims, especially in Metro Detroit, as a consequence of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York; the stringent requirements imposed in order to secure protection by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the root causes of current racial profiling as drug laws, which incline the police to suspect members of certain minority groups as committing certain crimes (Callahan & Anderson, 2001) are findings of recent studies and reports. They lead to the conclusion that racial disparities influence or affect police behavior, specifically racial profiling (Callahan & Anderson), and the system itself.

Profiling is controversial if it is based solely on race, ethnicity or national origin (American Law Library, 2009). According to statistics, African-Americans are many times likelier to be arrested and imprisoned than white Americans. As of 2000, there were more African-American men in prison than in college. Black children were nine times likelier to have at least one parent behind bars than white children. The most common form of racial profiling consists in stopping, questioning and searching African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, or other racial minorities more often because of their race or ethnicity. A 1996 ABC television network report, entitled "Driving While Black," sought to expose the discrimination. Lawmakers and the court found difficulty controlling the influence of racial profiling. Constitutional law says that a police officer who stops a car for a minor traffic violation may search it and its driver if he consents. Many searches result in arrests if the officer finds drugs or weapons. This, however, has become a controversial approach even if conducted not as part of racial profiling. In the meantime, racial profiling against minorities has risen to the point of arousing an outcry for civil liberties from civil rights groups (American Law Library).

Apartheid in the System

Racism consists of social practices, which explicitly or implicitly attribute merits or values to members of certain racially categorized groups solely on account of their race (Banks, 2004). It may be personal prejudice, ideological racism or institutional racism. A culture, which observes institutional racism, enforces policies and practices of institutions operate to produce systematic and continuing differences between racial groups. One of its aspects is called petit Apartheid, involving daily and informal or hidden interactions between the police and minorities. These interactions include extralegal stops and searches, which may or may not result in arrests or consequent entries into the criminal justice system. Apartheid focuses on attitudinal factors, which influence policing and other decisions made within that system. These are culturally biased beliefs and actions, including insults, rough treatment, civility, poor quality and the lack of objectivity of judicial instructions (Banks). Marvin D. Free, Jr., in his edited book, Racial Issues in Criminal Justice, noted the over-representation of African-Americans in arrest rates, juvenile institutions, adult incarceration and rates of receiving harsh penalties (Emmelman, 2005). He isolated drug abuse violations and violent index crimes as the offenses for which African-Americans are disproportionately arrested. He commented that African-Americans arrest rates are higher because of selective drug legislation aimed at the poor and people of color as well as the selective enforcement of such laws. And he also suggested that African-American arrests for violent index crimes were made less often because of the actual commission of these crimes and more often out of police discretion. In the same book, Robert Engvall contributed additional insights on the under-representation of African-American scholars in the field of criminal justice and the marginalization of criminal justice studies in the academe. He called attention not only to the oppression of African-Americans by the white majority but also on the minor status assigned to the issue by American universities and colleges. Michael A. Hallet pointed out that the unduly high imprisonment of African-Americans in private and for-profit prisons was equivalent to the slavery system of the long past. Sarah Eschholz presented evidence that racial minorities were more likely to be portrayed by the media as offenders than as victims, hence as predators (Emmelman).

Katheryn K. Russell, in the same book edited by Marvin Free, commented that the "driving while Black" phenomenon goes beyond traffic and extralegal stops and that racial profiling results in a vicious cycle of black marginalization and disrespect for the system (Emmelman, 2005). Marvin Free's research on race and pre-sentencing decisions also revealed racial disparities in decision-making. Becky Tatum contributed the finding on juvenile justice system, in particular, the transfer of juveniles to adult courts for the primary purpose of controlling and punishing minority youth rather than the youth in general. Tatum wrote that politicians typically supported such policies on account of public pressure, due in turn to perceptions and fear of crime as the media shaped them. On the other hand, racial discrimination in decision-making occurs throughout the processing of youth by juvenile justice officials and ends in racially disparate rates of transfers to adult courts. Meanwhile,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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