Black men face greater obstacles and harsher penalties than other offenders as they move through the criminal justice system, from higher bond amounts to more severe prison sentences, according to a study published recently in the American Society of Criminology journal Criminology & Public Policy.
The research examined the cases of 3,459 defendants indicted on felony charges in an urban U.S. jurisdiction and found that young black men face “cumulative disadvantages” throughout the criminal justice process. The authors found that these disadvantages—in which negative events lead to further disadvantages—impact a defendant's bond amount, pretrial detention, their treatment by police and the courts, and their ability to find employment upon release.
“From a theoretical standpoint, the finding of stronger cumulative disadvantages for particular demographic groups offers another dimension to the applicability of discretion-based theories to an understanding of racial disparities in sentencing,” write authors John Wooldredge, James Frank, Natalie Goulette and Lawrence Travis III in an article entitled “Is the Impact of Cumulative Disadvantage on Sentencing Greater for Black Defendants?” “Toward the end of reducing racial disparities in the distribution of prison sentences, a policy implication of our findings would be to reduce the court's reliance on money bail and/or more careful consideration of bail amounts for indigent defendants.”
Other recommendations include more careful consideration of bail amounts for poor defendants and giving pretrial detainees more opportunities to speak with their attorneys.