Would Arresting More Whites End Racial Disparities in the Justice System?


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“Profound” racial and ethnic disparities continue to mar America’s criminal justice system, according to a report by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). The report, Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, summarized a three-day discussion in New York last fall that included prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, scholars, community leaders, and the formerly incarcerated.

In one of the more provocative comments quoted by the report, Rick Jones of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem suggested: “The surest path to [criminal justice] reform would be to arrest more white people.” Other attending the conference “agreed with the truth, if not the practicality, of this position,” pointing out that those whites affected by such a policy would likely be poor and unemployed—rather than middle-class people whose criminalization would in theory spark more attention.

Nevertheless, Irwin Shaw, Attorney-in-Charge of the Legal Aid Society, New York County, said racial bias was often “implicit” in areas ranging from court procedure to sentencing, even among white liberals who want to eliminate flaws in the system. Jonathan Rapping, founder and director of the Southern Public Defender Training Center (now Gideon's Promise), added: “I am just as guilty of saying, 'What's going on here?' when I see the rare white defendant in a court-issued jumpsuit.” Other reform ideas included stopping the misuse of cash bail, arrests for marijuana possession and incarceration for non-violence offenses.

For more information and to read the report click here.

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