Research Paper: Ethics in the Justice System How We Treat Minorities Versus Whites

Pages: 12 (4207 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

Ethics in Justice System-How we treat Minorities vs. The whites.

Ethics in the Justice System- How We Treat Minorities vs. Whites

Ethics or the moral philosophy is the study of right and wrong. The Criminal Justice System is comprised of numerous participants who include police, prosecutors, defense counsel, probation officers and judges (Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness, 1999, p.36). When it comes to the process of procedural fairness, Americans are highly sensitive. The single most important source of popular dissatisfaction with the American legal system is the perception of unfair or unequal treatment (Burke and Leben, 2007, p.4). The public's dissatisfaction with the judicial branch can be alleviated by the judges paying critical attention to the key elements of procedural fairness. They should also be aware of the dissonance existing between how they view the legal process and how the public before them views it. Though it is important for judges to continue to pay attention to creating fair outcomes, they should also tailor their actions, language and responses to the public's expectations of procedural fairness (Burke and Leben, 2007, p.4).

The American criminal justice system is plagued by many unwarranted racial disparities with the most significant contributing factor being the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, especially at the charging and plea bargaining stages of the process (Davis, 2008, p.202). The number of prosecutors who consciously favor criminal defendants or victims based on race or class is small. Most of them are usually motivated by a desire to enforce the law in a way that will produce justice all in the communities they serve. Prosecutors will, however, bring about a dissimilar treatment of similarly situated victims and defendants, sometime along the race and class lines, even with their well-intentioned charging and plea bargaining decisions. Davis (2008) writes that the unwarranted racial disparities can only be eliminated with the active participation of prosecutors and their agreeing to institute reform measures (p.203-4). They along with other criminal justice officials must be willing to acknowledge the role they play in contributing to these disparities and also agree to institute reform measures (p.204). Securing the prosecutors cooperation in this effort will prove to be a challenging undertaking. They have in the past resisted even modest efforts to reform the way they use to perform their duties and responsibilities. Due to the fact that they are elected officials, their constituents are forced to view the issue as a high priority and insist upon prosecutorial action (Davis, 2008, p.204).

Proposals for reform based on allegations of racial bias will be met with particular resistance. Chances of prosecutors taking responsibility for contributing to racial disparity in the criminal justice system are slim even if it is an unintended consequence of their race-neutral charging and plea bargaining decisions. To add on to this, the ability of prosecutors to resist reform will be enabled by the Supreme Court decisions which have shielded prosecutorial decisions from scrutiny in a variety of contexts, including cases where there have been claims of discrimination based on race (Davis, 2008, p.204). Davis had written an article called Prosecution and Race: The Power and Privilege of Discretion, where she proposed the use of racial impact studies in prosecutors' offices as a way to advance the nondiscriminatory exercise of discretion and also reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Since writing the article nearly ten years before, there has been increased awareness of the role prosecutors' play in perpetuating the disparities (Davis, 2008, p.204). Criminal justice organizations and institutions have urged prosecutors to take responsibility for how decisions they make may contribute to racial disparities and also that the role that they have undertaken in leadership is to help in eliminating them.

The Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness conducted personal interviews, reviewing and digesting numerous reports and statistical data and observing the criminal justice system as it relates to disparate sentencing in Ohio. The commission, based on its work, concluded that many minorities perceived that Ohio's criminal justice system discriminated against them due to their race and/or minority status (Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness, 1999, p.36). The perception is not unique to Ohio only, but also represents the views of many minorities living throughout the United States. The commission also recognizes that racial discrimination does not account for all the differences in treatment of white people and the minorities but concludes that a factual basis for this perception clearly exists. There are many factors which affect the sentence ultimately imposed by each sentencing judge. The police decision to arrest, the prosecution decision to charge as well as the charges brought forward, the criminal code in itself, the skills, abilities and resources of defense counsel; the willingness of the parties to plea bargain; the particular jury selected; the nature of the particular criminal conduct; the background of the accused; the manner in which the pre-sentence report is prepared; the predilections of the particular sentencing judge, as well as other factors all effect the penalty which an individual defendant may be required to endure.

Racially Disproportionate Sentencing and Figures

A report written by Marc Mauer an assistant director of the Washington-based Sentencing Project, African-Americans are arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison almost 10 times more frequently than their Caucasian counterparts. One in 523 Caucasians in Ohio will spend some time in prison, while for African-Americans the figure is one in 53. The state's ratio of incarceration of African-Americans to Caucasians is 9.81, making it higher than the national average (Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness, 1999, p.37). Hurwitz and Peffley (2001) write that a contributing factor to the perceptions of bias being pervasive among many blacks is the differential (mis)treatment which begins early, even in the sense that black students are more often victims of corporal punishment as opposed to white children (p.6). More significantly, once individuals face widespread discrimination which is omnipresent once they have contact with the juvenile justice system. African-American youths face more punitive "control" at virtually every phase of the juvenile justice system: they become more likely to be detained by the police, are more likely to be subjects of juvenile court intake, more likely to be held for preliminary detention and more likely to be sentenced to a juvenile detention center (Hurwitz and Peffley, 2001, p.6). It is further argued that racial bias becomes worse as juveniles are processed deeper into the system: it was found in one department that was examined that African-Americans comprise 35% of the city youths, 55% of youths in police records, 57% of youths referred to court and 77% of those brought to secure detention. This basically means that discrimination becomes more pronounced as stakes become higher (Hurwitz and Peffley, 2001, p.6)

Racial bias in the criminal justice system is not limited to discriminatory treatment from the agents in the system, but is can also be argued to infiltrate the law itself. A good example given by Hurwitz and Peffley (2001) is the notorious 100:1 provision of the Federal Crack Cocaine Law of 1986 (U.S.C. 841) which mandates the same five-year prison sentence for one hundred grams of powder cocaine (primarily used by Caucasians) as for one gram of crack cocaine (used primarily by African-Americans), this being despite the gram-for-gram pharmacological equivalence of the two drugs. Courts have also upheld laws affecting minorities disproportionately like gang loitering laws and public housing authority mass building search laws.

Policies Affecting Particular Communities

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, criminologists started developing some problem-solving techniques that recognized that there was a concentration of criminal behavior in certain places as it would be the case of certain individuals (Taxman, Byrne and Pattavina, 2005, p.66). Criminal hotspots gave rise to the idea that public safety goals can be achieved by attending to the behavior of individuals in the specific area. Many of these hotspots resulted in certain communities being the target of law enforcement actions. The areas are defined by areas of law enforcement actions and requests by citizens or assistance through calls for service or policy initiatives. The communities are where churning occurs due to the residents being subject to the heightened police efforts made in an attempt to reduce disorder and criminal activities. These communities are commonly plagued by a lack of support services, high levels of poverty, elevated high school dropout rates and similar indicators of unhealthy communities which include higher rates of communicable disease and mortality. Another factor affecting disorder is police misconduct which has been shown to contribute to violence in these communities.

One of the three dominant themes in these communities is coercive dominance which means the concentration of arrest from and reentry into certain neighborhoods. The second theme is collective efficacy which means the building of trust and cohesion to reinforce prosocial norms. Third and last of the three themes is social capital which is the social relations, norms, trust and obligations which define the resources available in the community (Taxman, Byrne and Pattavina, 2005, p. 66). Local areas are therefore important to consider when thinking… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Ethics in the Justice System How We Treat Minorities Versus Whites."  Essaytown.com.  October 19, 2010.  Accessed October 16, 2019.
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