NAACP Urges Swift Enactment of Legislation to Address Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System

The Issue:
While people may argue about the reasons behind it, few would disagree that extensive racial and ethnic disparities exist today in the American criminal justice system.  These disparities are particularly true for African American men and boys, who are grossly overrepresented at every stage of the judicial process, from initial contacts with police to punishments.  African Americans routinely receiving more jail time and harsher punishments; 42% of Americans currently on death row are African American.  Nearly a million African Americans today are incarcerated in prisons and in jails, and unless there is a change, a black male born today has a one-in-three chance of going to prison in his lifetime.  In fact, despite the fact that numerous studies show that African Americans and Caucasians use cocaine at roughly the same rate, statistics confirm that over 80% of those currently in prison for crack cocaine possession are African American. 

To address these disparities, Senators Joseph Biden (DE) and Arlen Specter (PA), both senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have introduced the bipartisan Justice Integrity Act (S.3245), which aims to address the issue of unwarranted racial disparities in the American criminal justice system.  This important legislation would establish 10 pilot programs to create local advisory groups charged with collecting and analyzing racial and ethnic data on charging, plea negotiations, sentencing recommendations and other factors involved in creating these disparities. 

It is difficult for Americans of color to have faith and confidence in the American judicial system when we know from experience that we are treated differently because of the color of our skin.  This lack of confidence in turn, makes us not only distrustful of the system at every level, but also makes it much less likely that we are willing to turn to or cooperate with the very people and institutions who are charged with protecting our safety and ensuring that our Constitutional rights are upheld.

While this legislation will not solve the problems overnight, it is a very important first step.  If we as a Nation are going to truly meet our potential, we must address these disparities, and thus we appreciate that you have taken this important first step.