In this short essay, the author will comment on five issues that they feel impact upon the administration of courts and justice in the United States. It is the opinion of the author that the quality of the administration of the courts and the justice system is reflected in the way it treats its minorities. While the record has been decidedly mixed in the past, it has been pleasantly surprising to see some recent Obama administration initiatives that will be the subject of this review. However, much more remains to be done. This analysis will include information about juvenile defenders, justice and Native Americans, the overwhelming amount of minorities as opposed to Caucasians in the population, targeting of minorities by police, and the affordability of legal counsel for the poor in the United States justice system
One issue that jumps out immediately as a negative impact upon the administration the courts and the justice system in the United States is the lack of a separate judicial system for juvenile offenders as there is at the state level. While frequently this will result in the dismissal of the case from further action by the U.S. attorney, the overwhelming full weight of the Federal criminal system in prosecuting juveniles falls on Native Americans on the reservations where Federal sovereignty is frequently paramount. Under these conditions, 61% of juvenile delinquents confined by the Federal Bureau of Prisons were Native Americans and a U.S. court magistrate or justice hears the case in closed chambers and without a jury trial. This compares with 37% of juveniles of all races and backgrounds adjudicated delinquent were committed to a correctional facility on average for 34 months (Scalia, 1997, p.1). In other words, the full weight of Federal prosecution is thrown against the Native American offender where he is tried by a judge who tries primarily adults and has attitudes and inclinations that do not favor the accused. In fact, their chances of being prosecuted and sent to Federal prison are nearly twice as much as that of non-Native Americans who have no recourse to a juvenile detention facility as they would at the state level.
On the other hand, one needs to be balanced and realize that the Federal system specifically provides to juveniles. As indicated by the above data, while the system is weighted against African-Americans, the Federal system is quite lenient for other minors. In addition, we should consider that the U.S. Supreme Court has banned the death sentence for crimes that committed before the perpetrator had reached 18 years of age. This is not the case in all state jurisdictions and is a firm indicator that the Federal system is not harder in all respects than the state systems that frequently are harsher (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2009, p. 4). The Annie E. Casey Foundation advised that these functions be transferred to "Restore the capacity of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to serve as a national incubator and catalyst for improving juvenile justice policies and practices (Ibid. p 1)."
The above subject leads on to a discussion of the Federal justice system on the reservations. The way the U.S. government treats a minority group gives some idea in microcosm of the health of the entire justice system as a whole. Given the relationship of the U.S. government to many of the tribes as sovereign governmental state entities, its relationship to most groups of Native Americans is unique and unlike any other group. The issue has been and continues to be an issue for the United Nations and the U.S. government regularly reports on this issue, including the relationship of the U.S. Federal court and justice system with the tribes.
In reporting to the United Nations on civil rights, the Obama administration was able to positively report an increase in tribal sovereignty over their judicial affairs. President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act On July 29, 2010. This act requires the U.S. Justice Department to disclose to the tribal governments data on cases on that the U.S. government declines to prosecute. In addition, it is required to grant the tribes greater authority to prosecute and punish criminals. The law will expand Federal support for Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as Tribal officers. This will strengthen the tribal courts and police departments. Unfortunately, 1 in 25 adult American Indians is under the jurisdiction of the nation's criminal justice system -- more than twice the number of Caucasian adults in the system ("How is the," 2005, p. 1).
Unfortunately, other minorities are not doing well either as shown by dire prison statistics regarding minority imprisonment. Some statistics spell this out graphically. Although African-Americans make up only 12.7% of the total U.S. population, they represent 48.2% of adults in federal, state, or local prisons and jails. In addition, 42.5% of all prisoners on death row are African-American, more than three times the percentage of African-Americans in the total United States national population. Caucasians were imprisoned at a rate of 376 per every 100,000 in the population. This is as compared to 709 per 100,000 American Indians, 997 per 100,000 Latinos and 2,526 per 100,000 African-Americans in the total U.S. population. Also, African-American males possess a 32% chance of serving prison time at some point. This is compared to Hispanic males who have a 17% chance and Caucasian males who have a 6% chance (ibid). African-Americans are more likely to be sentenced to jail for the same crime than Caucasians. One third of people of color sentenced to jail would have received a much shorter or non-prison sentence if they had been treated by the courts in the same way as Caucasians facing similar charges. Hispanics and African-Americans who have no prior criminal record are far more likely to be incarcerated than Caucasian defendants with no criminal record. Hispanics are twice as likely as Caucasians to face prison time instead of probation, a fine, or time in a county jail. African-American youth are more likely to be detained than Caucasian youth. African-American youths who had no prior admissions were six times more likely to be incarcerated in a juvenile facility than a Caucasian youth. Hispanic youths were three times as likely to be jailed. African-Americans are disproportionately placed on death row. While they constitute 12% of the total U.S. population, about 43% of the death row population is African-American (ibid, p. 2).
In addition, people of color are overwhelmingly more likely to be targeted by police for harassment or arrest as compared to the sectors of the Caucasian population. For those over age 24, African-Americans (11.2%) were significantly more likely to be pulled over while driving than Caucasians (8.9%) Among drivers stopped for speeding, African-Americans (75.7%) and Hispanics (79.4%) were more likely than Caucasians (66.6%) to be ticketed. Police were far more likely to conduct searches of vehicles and/or driver in traffic stops involving African-American male drivers (15.9%) or Hispanic male drivers (14.2%), compared to Caucasian male drivers (7.9%). African-Americans (5.2%) and Hispanics (4.2%) stopped by police while driving is more likely than Caucasians (2.6%) to be arrested. In other words, African-Americans composed 11.6% of drivers stopped by police, but represented 19.9% of the drivers arrested. Hispanics were 8.4% of drivers stopped by police, but 11.7% of those arrested. Caucasians, on the other hand, are 77% of stopped drivers but only 66.3% of drivers arrested (ibid).
As the above statistics graphically show, the United States justice system is overwhelming of, by, and for Whites. Much more effort will have to be expended to alleviate this.
Finally, the lack of affordable legal counsel affects the ability to receive equal justice. Frequently, poverty leads to more frequent convictions under the criminal justice system. In the classic 1964…