tl;dr: How Institutionalized Racism Has Infected Our Justice System

The following is the post I meant to write last week, but then I got busy. Fortunately, my posts for this week fit into last week’s theme. For the rest of this week, expect a couple of posts on representations of people of color in the media.

In my last post, we discussed how institutionalized racism has affected the United States’ education system. Today, I’d like to talk about how it has affected our criminal justice system.

For an overview of how messed up our prison system is, check out this Hank Green/Visually video:

The system Hank describes is particularly true for people of color:

Don’t believe me? Check out these statistics:

  • On average, prison sentences for black men are nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes.
  • A 2008 study conducted in Los Angeles found that not only are black men and Latinos more likely to be stopped by police officers on the street, but black men who are stopped are 127% more likely to be frisked than stopped white males.
  • Those wrongfully convicted and later exonerated by DNA are disproportionately African American.

For more resources on racial profiling:

Racial profiling in LA: the numbers don’t lie. 

The Reality of Racial Profiling.

I would also strongly recommend checking out this Vox article on the unequal treatment of minorities in drug arrests: “Everyone does drugs, but only minorities are punished for it.” Or, if you’re a visual person like me, check these out:

Drug_use_by_race

(Source)

Us_drug_arrest_rates

(Source)

Which brings us to a statistic I think most of you have probably already heard: One out of three African American males will be incarcerated in his lifetime. 

(Source)

In my last post, we talked about the black male achievement gap, and how the challenges faced by young men and women of color have led to dropout rates among African American and Latino populations that are significantly higher than their white counterparts. So what happens to the kids who leave school? The disproportionate number of African American boys who are suspended from school–even preschool? Many of them end up in prison–a path that is referred to by experts as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

For more information on the school-to-prison pipeline, check out these resources:

Fact Sheet: How Bad Is The School-to-Prison Pipeline? 

Race, Gender, and The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls

For a more personal account of how the United States criminal justice system disproportionately sentences people of color, I would recommend checking out 15 to Life: Kenneth’s StoryThe film follows Kenneth, a young African American man who was sentenced to life in prison at age 15 for armed robbery. The film primarily focuses on his appeal 10 years after he was incarcerated, but also discusses the wider problem of juvenile life sentences in the United States. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life in prison.

15 to Life is not available on Netflix, but it is sometimes available on POV’s website. As always, if you’re looking for a film to screen for a community or educational event, it’s also available through POV’s Community Lending Library.

For more information on juveniles in prison, a problem in the United States that disproportionately affects youth of color, I would recommend checking out the 15 to Life discussion guide.* It discusses in detail the history of the juvenile justice system, sentencing juveniles to life without parole, and discusses specific cases that have affected sentencing practices in juvenile cases.


*Full disclosure: I’m biased, since I provided a substantial amount of research for this guide.

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