Cultural Compositions of the Criminal Justice System

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The criminal justice system is a set of legal and social institutions for enforcing the criminal law in accordance with a defined set of procedural rules and limitations.  This system includes several major subsystems, all of which contribute to the outcomes that individuals must face if convicted of breaking the law.  According to a Justice Department report released in July 2003, the U.S. prison population totaled 2,166,260.  This was the first time the population surpassed two million people, and this amount has almost doubled since 1990.  About 10.4% of African-American males, 2.4% of Hispanic men, and 1.2% of White men comprised criminal institutions in the United States.  According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, more African-American men were in jail than in college.  As appalling as these statistics may sound, they are clearly evident. Great opening!

One important contribution to these statistics is high school dropout rates.  According to Durbin (2010), societal costs, on average, total about $10,500 per student who tends to drop out of high school.  This figure includes unpaid federal, state, and local taxes, the cost of government-subsidized health care, the cost to the criminal justice system, and the cost of welfare, food stamps, and housing assistance.  School districts have fewer resources than in the past to invest in keeping troubled students on the path to graduation.

A paper was developed by Gary Christensen, Ph.D. of the Dutchess County Jail and Elyse Clawson of the Crime and Justice Institute to focus on the role of system stake holders in reducing recidivism through the use of evidence based practices.  The question to which an answer was researched for was, "Do jails play a role in improving offender outcomes?"  Even though I disagree with some of the opinions in this paper, I feel it is only righteous to hear from those on the opposing side of the argument.

According to Christensen and Clawson (2006), of all the people currently incarcerated in state or federal prisons XXXII (Numbering should be consistent throughout paper - these should be converted to standard numbering.) percent are White, XXXXV percent are Black, XX percent are Hispanic, and three percent are represented by other ethnicities.  As far as the number of criminals on parole, XXXX percent are White, XXXXI percent are Black, XVIII percent are Hispanic, and one percent is of another ethnicity.  Jails are comprised of XXXXIV percent Whites, XXXIX percent Blacks, XV percent Hispanics, and two percent other ethnicities.  There is an astounding LVI percent of Whites, XXX percent of Blacks, XII percent of Hispanics, and two percent of other ethnicities on probation.

As agreed, the fact that minority offenders are incarcerated disproportionately fuels much debate over the fairness of our system of criminal justice.  National incarceration rates find White offenders incarcerated at a rate of CCCLXVI per C (M); while African American offenders find themselves incarcerated at a rate of MMCCIX per C (M) (Christensen and Clawson, 2006).

Many White Americans appear to have drawn the conclusion that the criminal justice system, perhaps while imperfect, is still effective in dispensing fairness irrespective of the race of the person affected (Highsmith, 1996).  Many minorities believe that the judicial system is a "White" system where White people get away with committing crimes and Black people get punished.  According to the New Haven Register (1996), many blacks and other minorities believe that looking to courts for solutions to civil or criminal complaints is a waste of time.

In 1997, the American Bar Association observed that a majority of the time public defenders, who are most likely assigned to poor and largely minority defendants, were inexperienced, underpaid, overworked, and largely indifferent to their client's plight.  Even though all laws deem it illegal, there are incidents of local officials influencing jury selection to include mostly white males.  Local police and law officials are afraid that randomly selected jurors will be more liberal and will likely relate to and sympathize with defendants.  Previous studies have indicated that racial biases have influenced prosecutors' decisions to charge a defendant with a capital offense and/or to proceed to trial rather than plea bargain.


A unit was designed by Gary Highsmith at Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute in 1996, entitled Black Skin, White Justice: Race Matters in the Criminal Justice System.  It was designed to explore the ever persistent significance of race in the criminal justice system.  This unit attempts to draw the conclusion that the racial prejudices of the larger society are also present in the criminal justice system.

In this unit, Highsmith (1996) cites The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission entitled, The Real War on Crime, which states that, "African-American arrest rates for drugs during the height of the "drug war" in 1989 were five times higher than arrest rates for whites even though Whites and African-Americans were using drugs at the same rate."  Charles Ramsey, head of the narcotics division of the Chicago Police Department stated, "There's as much cocaine in the Sears Tower or the stock exchange as there is in the black community, but those guys are harder to catch."  The question is if this is actually an honest statement, or do police and prosecutors rather focus their attention on and go after Black offenders to supposedly keep their streets safe?

When police and prosecutors believe that Whites are harder to catch, they ultimately concentrate their time and energy towards Black males.  This directly influences the criminalization of young, Black males.  Out of six California counties independently surveyed in 1995, C percent of those sent to trial on drug charges were minorities, while the drug-using population in these same counties was more than LX percent White, and relatively untouched by law enforcement (Highsmith, 1996).  Across the country, incarceration rates for Blacks have surpassed those of any other ethnicity and unbelievably high percentages of Black males are under some form of court-ordered supervision, even though no adequate increases have occurred in Black violence and drug abuse.

Highsmith (1996) states, "For what is rarely mentioned, but of tremendous significance, is that Blacks are most often the victims where more serious crimes are concerned."  From 1973 to 1978, Black males were victimized by violent crimes at rates between LIII and LVII per thousand.  Also in this time frame, any Black man in the U.S. had a six to eight time greater chance of being murdered than any white man.  Of all Black households in 1985, XXVII percent had been touched by crime.  Two years later, black households continued to be more vulnerable than whites for violent crimes, burglary, and theft in and around the home (Wilson, 1992).

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, in 1986 Blacks accounted for about XXXXVII percent of all arrests for violent crimes even though Blacks comprised XII percent of the U.S. population (Highsmith, 1996).  Blacks accounted for XXXXVIII percent of the persons arrested for murder; about XXXXVII percent of all arrests for rape; XXXX percent for assault.

As far as the allocation of positions of lawmakers and law enforcers, minorities are very much underrepresented.  There are still many states in which no minorities hold positions as judges.  On the contrary, in those states that do, all minority officials are compiled in the same area, thereby making it only specific and limited areas that will have the possibility of receiving fair treatment.

"Unless we have a fair understanding of the characteristics of crimes that become official and those that do not, we are on very tenuous ground when we use official statistics to try to determine if crime is related to such things as income, racial inequality, or a variety of other variables for we do not know what crime rates measure (Mann, 1993)."  From my research, I can conclude that many Whites who perform these illegal activities do not consider themselves as being unethical, but more along the lines as doing a favor towards society.  Black people in America are facing a serious crisis in regards to their involvement in the criminal justice system. The only C percent effective solution is for minorities to try to avoid the criminal justice system completely.  I also feel as with the new changes that have taken place in the White House, minorities will have a bigger voice when it comes to legal issues.  The fact that the criminal justice system is structured unequally tells us that we have not progressed as far as civil rights officials would have thought and that it is time for more individuals to step up and take the challenge.



Christensen, G.; Clawson, E. (2006).  Our system of corrections: Do jails play a role in   improving offender outcomes?  National Institute of Corrections.  U.S.   Department of Justice.  The Urban Institute. Washington, D.C.

Durbin, K. (2010, January 21).  $51 million bill targets school dropout rates.  The   Columbian.  Retrieved from

Highsmith, G. (1996).  Black skin, white justice: Race matters in the criminal justice       system.  Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.  Retrieved from

Mann, C.R. (1993).  Unequal justice.  Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. p.27.

New Haven Register (1996, April 24).  To minorities, court staff far from black and       white.

Wilson, A. (1992).  Black on black violence.  Africa World Info Systems.  New Jersey.