Colorblind Racism and the Criminal Justice System Colorblind racism has had a significant effect on the criminal justice system. It is a systematic issue and has had an effect on all levels of the criminal justice system. For operating under a “colorblind” society that doesn’t take race into consideration when making decisions and writing policies, the criminal justice system has a huge disparity when it comes to the number of black people affected by it. Race does matter in the criminal justice system. The rate of black incarceration almost tripled between 1980 and 2000. It was also during this time period that the black-to-white ratio increased to above 8 to 1 (Bobo 2011). This means that a black person is eight times more likely to go to prison than a white person. One out of every three black men will go to prison at one point in their lifetime compared to one out of every eighteen white men (Mauer 2011). In 2009, the Uniform Crime Report showed that 39% of those arrested for a violent offense and 30% of those arrested for a person offence were black (Mauer 2011). These numbers are disproportionate to the 12% of the population in America that is black.
The main justification of this stark racial disparity in the criminal justice system is that the system is now racially unbiased; thus the increase in the racial disparity in incarceration rates is because there is just that much crime being committed by black people. This is not the case, policies (such as mandatory minimums, drug laws, and stop-and-frisk) that were created to be colorblind and reduce the discretion of those working in in the criminal justice system have had a larger impact on communities of color. These polices are not colorblind at all and that can be seen by how the black population is incarcerated at rates that are higher than any other race. Police officers and prosecutors have a lot of discretion in the criminal justice system. Police have discretion over who comes in contact with the system and prosecutors have discretion over what charges are pursued. Police across the United States use race as a factor 14 when making decision on who they contact. In 2011 there were 685,724 stop-and-frisks conducted by the New York Police Department and between June 2005 and June 2008, 85% of the stop-and-frisks were on black people while only 8% were on white people (Graff 2015). This means that black people are more likely to be searched by police and be inducted into the criminal justice system. This policy causes a racially disproportionate outcome that is then rationalized as nonracial because it wasn’t designed to be implicitly biased it was designed to reduce such biases (Van Cleve and Mayes 2015). Prosecutors are the next level of criminal justice system workers that have a lot of discretion over who is going to continue contact with the system. They decide which cases will be charged and how they will be charged. In cases where a white person is killed it is four times more likely that the defendant will be sentenced to death than if the person that was killed was black (Mauer 2011). This shows the level of discretion prosecutors have over the lives of the defendants. While the use of race in prosecution and sentencing is prohibited by the guidelines that were written that doesn’t stop the implementation of policies with racially disparate effects (Wu 2016). The race of the offender had also been found to play a significant role in the prosecutor’s decision to file a charge and proceed with full prosecution. Minorities had higher odds of being charged and fully prosecuted compared to white (Wu 2016). The discretion that both police officers and prosecutors have over who enters and exits the criminal justice system is backed by policies that claim to be race neutral; however they have a larger negative effect on black lives. Colorblind racism has also infiltrated the criminal justice system through the laws and policies (such as mandatory minimums and drug laws) that were put in place. The implementation of sentencing guidelines were originally set to reduce the discretion of judges 15 and to ensure fair sentences to everyone without taking race into consideration (Wu 2016). The laws didn’t end discretion it just moved it from the hands of the judges to the prosecutors. One of the policies that was put in place with the intention of being “colorblind” was a result of the “war on drugs” and they have played a big role in locking up large numbers of the black population (Alexander 2010). The sentencing guidelines that judges have to impose on those convicted of drug offenses often lead to sentences that are longer than violent crime sentences (Alexander 2010). The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 included the mandatory minimum sentences for distributing cocaine. This included the punishment of selling five grams of crack cocaine (associated with blacks) equal to the punishment of selling five hundred grams of powder cocaine (associated with whites). Under this law almost eighty percent of those sentenced are black (Graff 2015). The criminal justice system “produces and illusion of neutrality while exacerbating racial disproportionality.” (Van Cleve and Mayes 2015). Colorblind racism is a problem in American society and that problem is reflected in the entire American Criminal Justice System