At every stage of the criminal justice system, people of color fare worse than their White counterparts. The Sentencing Project reports that “sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.”
Alec Karakatsanis, civil rights attorney, advocate, and Founder and Executive Director of the Civil Rights Corps, states in his Harvard Law Review commentary Policing, Mass Incarceration, and the Failure of American Lawyers that "Putting a human in a cage is brutal business...We have barely cared about these consequences largely because they aren't happening to wealthy white people."
New Jersey is a diverse state but racial disparity in its criminal justice system belies unequal treatment under the law.
New Jersey leads the nation in racial disparity in incarceration. While the national average for Black to White disparity is 5:1, New Jersey has the unenviable distinction of incarcerating Blacks at a rate of 12:1.
Data Source: Ashley, Nellis, The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Inequity in the Criminal Justice System, 2015 derived from the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics
The New Jersey Jail Population Analysis in March 2013 served as the catalyst for criminal justice and bail reform in the State. Sweeping reforms to criminal justice in the jail setting were enacted based on this powerful data. The report identified important demographics of New Jersey's jail population. As it relates to race, the report identified that seventy-one percent of inmates in New Jersey's jails were either Black or Hispanic.
Racial disparity in the criminal justice system does not begin with incarceration. The ACLU of New Jersey’s examination of racial disparities related to low level offenses in four New Jersey cities demonstrated a pattern of racially disparate enforcement practices. Whereas the ACLU has reported that Blacks were three times more likely to be arrested than Whites for marijuana possession in New Jersey, a deeper dive into New Jersey’s police practices often resulted in higher disparities. Despite New Jersey's dubious notoriety for racial profiling and the resulting consent decree related to bias in the New Jersey State Police, the ACLU's report suggests that the recommendations to reduce racial bias have not influenced local municipalities.
Recognizing the racial disparity in arrests and incarceration, the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey has called for policy recommendations related to criminal justice. In their 2017 publication, The Uncomfortable Truth: Racism, Injustice, and Poverty in New Jersey, the APN calls for the elimination of policies and practices that result in the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of people of color and recommends the requirement of racial and ethnic impact statements for all criminal justice legislation. This legislation was signed by NJ Governor Chris Christie before he left office in January 2018.
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