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Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System is Deeper than Discrimination

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

As a reentry program, we work with formerly incarcerated people of many races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. We get a first-hand glimpse at the inequalities faced by different groups of people as they work to rebuild their lives after incarceration. In many cases, formerly incarcerated people of color do not have access to the resources necessary to live a healthy and productive life.

African American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than white Americans. Hispanic citizens are 3.1 times more likely to experience incarceration than their white counterparts. The source of this inequality is deeper and more systematic than racial discrimination. Based on historical patterns of harsh sentencing and unfair parole restrictions, it could appear that the U.S. operates within two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people who can afford adequate legal representation, and the other for low-income citizens and people of color.

Youth of color make up two-thirds of the youth detention population in America. Youth of color are also more likely to experience poverty, often growing up in or near underserved neighborhoods with moderate-to-high crime rates. In these cases, illegal activities can seem unavoidable and may easily influence emerging youth. No matter their circumstances or location, youth of color deserve a fair chance at reentering their communities after experiencing the impact of detention centers.

There is a covert and vicious cycle within the criminal justice system that people of color are often trapped into unintentionally, thus creating a false image of various groups of people and the neighborhoods they grow up in. Many formerly incarcerated people of color are misunderstood and are not given the opportunity to be heard due to lack of adequate legal representation or community support, resulting in frustration and a feeling of unworthiness which can result in self-medicating and misbehavior. There should be government-funded resources in place to help formerly incarcerated youth and adults transition back into society mentally, physically, and financially. Reentry programs are essential, and we will continue the fight to reduce recidivism - one person at a time.

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