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An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System

by Cindy Reed; Elizabeth Hinton; LeShae Henderson

May 4, 2018

The evidence for racial disparities in the criminal justice system is well documented. The disproportionate racial impact of certain laws and policies, as well as biased decision making by justice system actors, leads to higher rates of arrest and incarceration in low-income communities of color. However, there is no evidence that these widely disproportionate rates of criminal justice contact and incarceration are making us safer. This brief presents an overview of the ways in which America's history of racism and oppression continues to manifest in the criminal justice system, and a summary of research demonstrating how the system perpetuates the disparate treatment of black people. The evidence presented here helps account for the hugely disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on millions of black people, their families, and their communities.

  • Implement intensive, ongoing professional development for all educators on unconscious bias, racial microaggressions, culturally mediated behaviors, and teaching practices for boys and young men of color.
  • Establish a countywide exclusionary discipline task force that can investigate districts and schools in the county with high levels of suspensions for Black males.
  • Require that advocates be involved as independent representatives for any foster youth who is subject to suspension.
  • Recognize the role that cultural misunderstanding and differences have in producing disparities in suspension.
  • Provide avenues for students to report educators who they feel are unduly 'targeting' them for discipline with follow-up with students afterwards.
  • Black males are 5.4 times more likely to be suspended in Sacramento County public schools than their peers.
  • One-third of all Black male foster youth are suspended, and the rate for Black male foster youth in 7th and 8th grade increases to 59 percent.