Criminal justice system still fraught with racial disparity

Black people in Illinois and across the country are still more likely to be imprisoned than white people, although one study points to a positive trend in reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system. The Council on Criminal Justice reported declining racial gaps in imprisonment rates in local jails and state prisons as well as probation and parole authorities. The council includes bipartisan members from government agencies, police organizations and the criminal justice reform movement. The study noted that declines in racial disparity were found in all major crime categories but were most pronounced in terms of drug offenses.

Racial gaps in drug prosecution and sentencing have drawn serious attention from criminal justice reformers over the years, especially as many people were serving long sentences for nonviolent crimes, including simple possession. While black people in 2000 were 15 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses than white people, that multiple dropped to five times by 2016, still a staggering number. Various factors have changed the situation for drug sentencing, including the opioid crisis and cannabis legalization.

However, other experts noted that while there are some positive indications, racial bias in the criminal justice system appears to be alive and well. Black people are more likely to be arrested, a fact widely attributed to police focusing their operations and raids in poor communities and communities of color. They are also more likely to be held in pretrial detention, giving them a worse chance in court later. In addition, black people are more likely to receive longer prison sentences after conviction.

A criminal conviction can carry serious consequences regardless of race, but the effects of prison time or a felony record can be accentuated by racial bias. A criminal defense attorney may help people to challenge police accusations and work to avoid a conviction.

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