Disparity in Sentencing for Crack Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

It is a matter of opinion as to whether this is actually accurate, but it does appear to be logical (Payne, 1997).

This is an important analogy because of the fact that many individuals who are targeted for a particular reason will often attempt to find a disparity issue that they can use to insist that they have been treated unfairly. In drug use or sale issues, these people are targeted because of the offense that they have committed, but when sentencing is handed down, those who feel that they received too harsh of a sentence will work to find reasons that they believe their sentencing to be unfair.

Race is only one reason that these individuals use. Others include gender, age, and whether the amount of drug that they had is a felony or should be a misdemeanor instead. Some of the speculation into why some individuals feel that they are being treated in a way that is unfair to them has a lot to do with money and power (Payne, 1997). Caucasians in this country tend to have more on average then minority races and while many believe that money and power are not everything, when it comes to convictions, lawyers, and good sentencing money and power are highly important (Payne, 1997). This is also true of many who are young and do not have much money, whatever their race. These individuals cannot afford good lawyers, and this can affect the sentences that they receive based on what type of defense they present and how compelling their testimony is.

There is no way that many of these poor individuals can provide for lawyers and receive good defenses to the crimes that they have been accused of committing (Payne, 1997). Whereas individuals who have money and power are much more able to pay for these things, most poor individuals are left to suffer, and those that are convicted of offenses involving powder cocaine are often more 'upper class' as opposed to those that find themselves involved with crack, which is cheaper and more often used by the lower classes (Payne, 1997). This sounds unnecessarily harsh, but it appears that this is the case that the criminal justice system has found itself in at this point in time. Even though money and power should not greatly influence how someone is judged and whether they are deemed guilty or innocent of a particular crime, in reality power and money do affect these sorts of things (Payne, 1997).

Money buys extremely good lawyers instead of having to rely on public defenders, and having power in this country makes people less likely to be sentenced to punishments that are extremely harsh, regardless of their crime (Payne, 1997). Celebrities and other individuals who have a great deal of money and power often receive probation or house arrest as opposed to jail time for offenses such as drugs (Payne, 1997). Those that do get jail time often go to minimum-security facilities and are actually treated very well (Payne, 1997). They often do not remain for a great deal of time. However, normal human beings who do not have a lot of money find themselves receiving much harsher punishments that these individuals, especially if they fall into the minority category. This seems like a stereotypical, opinionated judgment, but statistics also back up much of this information (Payne, 1997).

There is also, however, some evidence that race does not play a large part in sentencing disparity where crack vs. powder cocaine is concerned, despite the fact that the claim is made by many. Other issues may actually affect disparity more than someone's race or ethnicity. Regarding the issue that was previously mentioned about gang membership when it comes to African-American arrests, this has not actually been found to be all that accurate (Flaherty & Biskupic, 1996). When the Attorney General was asked why there were so many blacks being arrested it was indicated that this had to do with drug crime laws and the fact that more African-Americans run in gangs and these gangs tend to commit drug crimes (Blumstein, et al., 1983). However, this is not entirely accurate in the complete sense and it would also appear that there is some sentencing disparity going on in the system that has nothing to do with the race of the individual, but rather is based on other factors. This confusion about the issues is at the heart of much of the controversy around whether disparity, based on race or other factors, is actually present in the criminal justice system when it comes to sentencing (Blumstein, et al., 1983).

The criminal justice system and the courts continue to hold the strong opinion that individuals are incarcerated at higher rates based on their race mostly due to the fact that drug laws and street gangs are affecting this number (Rich, et al., 1982). However, studies of individuals on death row have shown that most of these are not violent offenders and that very few of them belong to any type of gang or other criminal organization (Rich, et al., 1982). It would appear to some that the only crime these individuals have committed is not being Caucasian and committing some relatively minor offense that a Caucasian individual would not be treated nearly as harshly for (Banks, 2004). When individuals are arrested and treated more harshly based on the race that they belong to, this becomes discrimination and racial profiling (Rich, et al., 1982).

Even though this occurs every day in this country the court system still continues to insist that this is illegal and improper punishment (Rich, et al., 1982). However, it must be allowed to some degree because it continues to occur when minorities are sentenced for drug offenses involving cocaine and for other crimes (Rich, et al., 1982). At least, this is the opinion held by some. Other studies, however, contradict that notion and lay claim to the fact that individuals of a particular race are not targeted more often or sentenced more harshly than any others, nor are individuals sentenced that much differently based on whether they are involved with crack cocaine or powder cocaine.

Cocaine and 'Crack Babies'

The issue of crack cocaine must also be addressed here, in order to establish and understand just how significant of an issue this actually is for society and for those that involve themselves with it. Late in the 1980's, the media made a large issue out of pregnant women who were also users of crack cocaine. The offspring of these women, commonly called "crack babies" were believed to have impaired IQ's, behavioral problems, and late language development, as well as a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and various health and emotional problems. Some of the research on the subject does indicate that crack babies are at high risk for these problems, but other researchers find that this is not necessarily the case. These researchers believe that other factors such as poverty, the health of the mother, and the adequacy of prenatal care affect the unborn child more than cocaine use. Still other researchers believe that it is a combination of all factors, including cocaine use, or the use or any other drug including alcohol or tobacco, that puts these children at risk.

Past Research:

The first and most influential reports of the damaging effects of cocaine on the infant came from a Chicago pediatrician named Ira Chasnoff. In 1985, he published a study saying that "the newborns of 23 cocaine-using women were less interactive and moodier than non-cocaine-exposed babies" (Greider, 1995). The media readily accepted Dr. Chasnoff's study, and for several years his research was not challenged. Other researchers began to report the serious effects of cocaine on developing babies. Judy Howard, a pediatrician at the University of California, Los Angeles, once told Newsweek that in cocaine afflicted babies, the part of the brain that "makes us human beings, capable of discussion or reflection [had been] wiped out" (Greider, 1995).

Fortunately, some researchers finally began to realize that their were contributing factors to the problems the 'crack babies' had, and it slowly came to light that perhaps not all of the problems being attributed to cocaine use were caused by the drug. Maybe some of the developmental delays, behavioral problems, and language delays were related to some other problem. According to one such study conducted at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, babies whose mothers used crack cocaine while pregnant had the same developmental problems as poverty-stricken inner-city children whose mothers were not users (Crack Babies, 1997).

The study went on to note that both poor inner-city children, and children who were exposed prenatally to cocaine scored far below the normal range on tests of cognitive development. The researchers felt that both groups' scores could be attributed to poverty issues such as poor nutrition for the mother, and the lack of good quality medical care during the months of…

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