Criminal Justice And American Culture. Specifically It Term Paper

¶ … criminal justice and American culture. Specifically it will discuss jail time served by Blacks, Hispanics and whites, and the lawyers who prosecute them. The statistics indicate that African-American men, especially between the ages of 25 to 29, are incarcerated at a higher rate than either Hispanics or whites. There are several factors that are associated with these statistics, including where these young men grow up, their income, and their education, among others. There is also the issue of racial profiling. This paper will look at these statistics and attempt to answer the question of why these young men serve more jail time than other American men do. In most areas of violent and non-violent crime, African-American men are more represented in American prisons than any other race. Some people may feel African-Americans are more prone to crime and violence, but many studies point to several other factors in criminal activity. These social factors can have an effect on crime and prosecution, and they can help send some people toward a life of crime, while others overcome them. However, statistics do show that there are other factors in the criminal justice system that may offer an explanation why African-Americans are often overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

Criminal Prosecution

One aspect of the criminal prosecution process that many people do not take into account is the absence of black criminal and trial lawyers and judges. While race should not be a deciding factor in the courtroom, the prevalence of white judges and lawyers may skew the statistics at least in part. A reporter notes, "Nationally, about 5% of law firm partners are black, a number that has crept higher over the past 30 years. Partners typically share in firms' profits or losses, while associates are employees" (Sherman, 2007). This statistic indicates there are even fewer black judges, since traditionally, judges are lawyers first and follow a progression to sitting on the bench. In addition, several other studies in the past few years indicate there are fewer African-Americans enrolling in law school, which means this disparity will continue in the future. Blacks are underrepresented in the courts system, and the people deciding their fate, from jurors to justices, may have preconceived notions of black criminals, whether they admit them or not.

In addition, law enforcement tends to arrest far more blacks than whites for many offences, including drug trafficking. Another expert notes, "A report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission noted that 65% of the persons who used crack in 1993 were white, yet whites constituted only 4% of the federal offenders convicted of trafficking in crack. On the other hand, 88% of such defendants were black" (Goldman, 2004). This may come in part from racial profiling, where police departments regularly target blacks and other minorities as their main focus for investigation, or it may come from them targeting certain neighborhoods for enforcement, such as inner city ghettos, while ignoring other areas. Author Goldman cites specifics in just one state -- Florida. He writes, "More than 70% of all drivers stopped were either African-American or Hispanic, yet blacks constituted only 12% of the driving-age population in the state and only 15% of drivers convicted of traffic violations (Goldman, 2004). This practice goes on all over the country, and it is probably a factor in the disparity between whites and blacks incarcerated in the country.

Criminal Conviction

The criminal justice system is biased in its treatment of minorities in several key areas. Convictions of black offenders are higher, and that is the case for both violent and non-violent crimes. Expert Goldman continues, "Today, blacks and Latinos constitute four out of every five drug offenders in state prison, and arrest rates for drug offenses are six times higher for blacks than for whites" (Goldman, 2004). The Bureau of Justice statistics indicates that in 2004, the total percentage of offenders convicted in state courts was 59% white and 38% white, but this does not take into account Federal Courts. Whites committed more sexual assaults (72% to 25%), and aggravated assaults (59% to 38%), while blacks committed more murders (53% to 44%), and more robberies (58% to 40%) ("Demographic characteristics," 2009). These statistics might seem to indicate that the judicial system is finally becoming more equal, but there are other statistics that indicate this is not the case.

Prison Sentences

When it comes to prison sentences, blacks are almost always sentenced to more total prison time than whites,...


For example, the statistics show that the average time whites spend incarcerated for any crime is 58 months, while the average for blacks is 63 months ("Mean length," 2009). This trend continues with specific crimes, as well. For example, for violent offenses, whites serve an average of 95 months incarcerated, while blacks serve an average of 108 months. When it comes to murder, blacks spend an average of 258 months in prison, while whites spend an average of 231 months ("Mean length," 2009). In fact, in just about every type of crime, blacks spend more time in prison than whites, without exception. The only exception is probation, where they tend to spend less time than whites do, perhaps because of their longer prison sentences.
Time Served

As with other statistics, the time served for whites and blacks in prison is disparate. The median maximum stay for both races is 48 months, but after that, blacks spend more time behind bars. The mean for whites is 63 months to blacks 69 months maximum sentence length and the mean time behind bars is 27 months for whites and 32 months for blacks. The percent of maximum stay is 42.9% for whites and 46.4% for blacks (Hughes, 2005). All of these statistics add up to a bias in the criminal justice system toward blacks, and much of that bias could come from social factors that affect the courts and the criminal population at large.

Social Factors

While these statistics suggest that African-Americans may be more prone to crime, most researchers feel that is not the case. One expert notes, "Rather, their work suggested that broader social and economic structural conditions set the stage for the level of crime in an area as well as the differences in crime one could expect to see between race and ethnic groups" (Lauritsen, 2004). Many studies have shown that crime levels are higher in poor neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods are often located in urban inner city neighborhoods. Crime is higher there because there is a high poverty level, there are few jobs available, and many residents see no other way to provide for themselves and their families. Another writer notes, "Poverty could drive criminals to commit brutal eliminations of individuals and may indirectly cause sexual crimes" (Moyer, 2001, p. 37). Poverty can make people desperate, and desperate people can resort to desperate measures, even criminal activity, if it goes on long enough.

Two researchers found other contributing factors to violence, as well. They said they "follow[ed] black children in Chicago and they too find that school and individual factors are associated with later use of violence. They also find that exposure to discrimination (measured with several self-report questions) is associated with increased use of violence, particularly among the males" (Lauritsen, 2004). Lack of education is also an issue, as many who turn to violence have dropped out of school or do not receive good enough grades to stay in school, so they lack the education necessary to command good paying jobs that could lead them to a better way of life. In addition, it is more difficult for minorities with average grades to get into college, so there is far less opportunity for them to get a good education so they can get better paying jobs and leave poverty behind.

Another factor is alcoholism and drug addiction. Many alcoholics and drug addicts participate in criminal activities to support their habits, and many of the people who live in poverty turn to addiction as a way "out" of their problems. Author Moyer continues, "Lombroso believed that alcoholism is an important factor in criminality. In fact, he stated that alcoholism is the only disease capable in itself of causing criminality" (Moyer, 2001, p. 36). Drug addiction is also a large problem in poor, inner city areas, and many residents there engage in selling drugs, even if they do not use them themselves, adding to the crime problems in those areas.

Another factor in modern day criminality, especially among ethnic groups is gang activity. Rival gangs commonly clash in open gun battles or fights, threatening non-members who live nearby, but they engage in criminal activities, too. Gangs attract more violent members of the community, and they often engage in illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, prostitution, and robbery, and gang members must participate in these activities if they choose to be in the gang. Most the biggest, most violent gangs are made up of blacks or Hispanics, and so, they are a bigger target for law enforcement and criminal proceedings.

However, not…

Sources Used in Documents:


Editors. (2009). Demographic characteristics of persons convicted of felonies in State courts, by offense, 2004. Retrieved 21 May 2009 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site:

Editors. (2009). Homicide trends in the United States. Retrieved 21 May 2009 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site:

Editors. (2009). Mean length of felony sentences imposed in State courts, by offense and race of felons, 2004. Retrieved 21 May 2009 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site:

Goldman, D.S. (2004). The modern-day literacy test?: Felon disenfranchisement and race discrimination. Stanford Law Review, 57(2), 611+.
Sherman, M. (2007). Black lawyers rare at Supreme Court. Retrieved 21 May 2009 from the U.S.A. Today Web site:

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