Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System

by The Sentencing Project

“Black lives matter” has become a rallying cry in light of evidence that the criminal justice system is failing to uphold this basic truth. Official data, although woefully inadequate, show that over half of those killed by police in recent years have been black or Latino. Officers involved in these killings are rarely indicted, much less convicted, for excessive use of force. And official responses to recent protests have spurred further controversy: militarized police forces disrupted public assemblies in Ferguson,4 and New York City’s police union blamed pro-reform politicians and nonviolent protesters for the killing of two officers by a mentally unstable man. The criminal justice system’s high volume of contact with people of color is a major cause of African Americans’ disproportionate rate of fatal police encounters, as well as of broader perceptions of injustice in many communities. This briefing paper identifies four key features of the justice system that contribute to its disparate racial impact, and presents recent best practices for targeting these inequities drawn from adult and juvenile justice systems around the country. In many cases, these practices have produced demonstrable results.

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