From The Classroom to the Courtroom
Scholars assess race and class in the American criminal justice system
By Ronald Roach
Angela J. Davis wants to take scholarship from the classroom to the courtroom. A tenured law professor at the American University law school in Washington, Davis is seeking to spearhead a clinical research project that will work directly with prosecutors on developing policies and practices to minimize racial disparities in prosecutorial treatment.
Davis belongs to a cadre of notable scholars whose research has focused on documenting racial discrimination in the American criminal justice system. There’s overwhelming evidence that Blacks face harsher treatment than Whites in criminal justice proceedings, according to her research.
“Prosecutors have tremendous discretionary power on how defendants are treated in the criminal justice system. My research has shown that Black defendants are treated more harshly than White defendants by prosecutors,” she says.
For years, a debate over American criminal justice has brewed with defenders arguing its impartiality by presenting analyses showing Blacks and Latinos committing crimes at rates higher than their representation in the population. In contrast, critics of the system have argued the selective policing of crimes, such as drug possession, have focused exclusively on minority communities and have resulted with arrests disproportionately higher among minority groups than among Whites who are policed far less for the same crime. Critics have also argued that minorities receive harsher penalties for the same crimes as Whites.
In 1980, non-Whites accounted for 54 percent of the nation’s prison population while only comprising 20 percent of the total U.S. population. By 2000, non-Whites were 66 percent of the prison population while accounting for 30 percent of the American population, according to federal officials.
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