The criminal justice system ostensibly exists to keep the population safe and rehabilitate offenders. Unfortunately, justice does not appear to be blind in the United States.
Reports continue to show that a disproportionate number of people of color deal with incarceration. The consequences create lasting impacts on these communities.
Racial disparities in incarceration rates
Crime touches all groups, so one might expect the incarceration rate to mirror the census numbers regarding race. However, the statistics tell a different story.
Approximately 60% of United States residents identify as white, and just over 13% are Black. Latinos are nearly 19%, and indigenous ethnicities represent less than 2%.
The Prison Policy Initiative finds that people of color compose an overwhelming percentage of the prison population in total and in relation to their respective ethnicities. For example, 38% of inmates are Black. Also, Native Americans and Hispanics are more than twice as likely to end up in a state or federal prison.
Consequences of unfair practices
If the justice system met its stated aim of rehabilitation, such disparities would not continue. The rise of the prison-industrial complex bears more in common with institutions of indentured servitude and slavery.
These practices have substantial effects on communities of people of color. Black Americans report higher mental health struggles. Additionally, time in prison can alter a family’s options for housing, higher education and employment. Often, incarceration results from harsher sentencing for low-level drug offenses, leading to recent pushes for changes in state and federal laws.
The data shows that people of color tend to face uphill obstacles when appearing before criminal courts. After a criminal accusation, individuals of these populations generally must prepare to fight a challenging battle to obtain justice.