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This paper will ask several questions and hopefully answer most of those questions. Questions like is the criminal justice system bias against the poor and is the criminal justice system bias against minorities. We then explore some of the possible solutions to the problems that could cause biases. We then look at a study done on several communities where relations between police and the public had repaired their relationship.
It’s easy to understand why people see the criminal justice system as biased. Our of all of our states prisoners forty percent can not even read; and sixty-seven percent did not have full-time employment when they were arrested. So there are more uneducated people in prison then there are educated people. This seems like then that our system of criminal justice is operated on an unequal system against poor or uneducated people. However, one of the problems we run into when we try to compare the wealthy lawbreakers to poor lawbreakers is the wide difference between the amount of wealthy people and poor people we have in our population. “In 1989, the wealthiest one percent of United States households owned nearly forty percent of the nation’s wealth. The wealthiest twenty percent owned more than eighty percent of the nation’s wealth. That leaves precious little for the rest” (Cole, 2000). This isn’t just true with adults, but with children and teenagers too.
The number of poor/under-funded schools in America far outweighs the number of wealthy schools in America. That’s probably the main reason our system appears to be unfair against the poor. The reason that any pole or nation wide research will be bias against the poor or lower class is because there is a much larger poor/lower class population than a wealthy/high class population. Most American’s will probably not want to believe that our criminal justice system is not operated on equality. After all our nations Supreme Court even has the saying “Equal Justice Under Law” written above the entranceway. There are several very famous Supreme Court’s decisions that uphold equality for the poor. In Gideon v. Wainwright they made it a law that the state must provide a lawyer to all defendants who have been charged with a serious crime and cannot afford a lawyer. In Miranda v. Arizona the Supreme Court decided that police must provide all suspects with an attorney.
These court decisions might be a little misleading since both were decided during the time of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was strongly liberal and very supportive of economic equality. Since then the principles of equality from both decisions for Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona have been cheated and twisted so that neither decisions are upheld to the full extent that they were intended (Cole, 2000). That’s enough bashing our court system. There are actually many things that police officers do witch can be biased. For example the Fourth Amendment says that we have a right against unlawful searches and seizures. However, police officers all the time and request their consent to search them or their belongings (without ever having any basis for suspicion) without ever informing them of their right to refuse the search. This isn’t necessarily a bias against the poor but it makes sense to me that an officer would judge somebody on appearance.
There is also the means of transportation we have to consider if law enforcement is bias to the poor. Say hypothetically some wealthy person is traveling across the country to a birthday party. How are they going to travel? Most wealthy people would probably travel across country like that by means of flying. While flying, people do not come in contact with that many police officers nor are they in many positions where they would normally break the law. However, say there is a poor person who is traveling the same distance to the same party but does not have the money to fly. The cheapest mode of transportation is definitely by way of buss. While traveling by buss there is definitely a larger chance of contact with the police than when traveling by air. There are also many more opportunities for crime to be committed while traveling on a buss. Again we have the situation where it’s not necessarily that the poor are treated differently but are maybe just in environments where crime is committed more often, which would explain why it seems that the system is biased against them (Rothwax, 1996)
So I feel like we could come to an agreement now that the criminal justice system is not necessarily biased against the poor at the law enforcement side of the criminal justice system. However, the courtroom side of the criminal justice system seems indirectly biased against the poor, simply because each trial can be different depending on how much money they defense and the prosecution have available to them. Now lets talk about other ways that the criminal justice system could be bias. What about race? Are people treated differently depending on their ethnicity? Most people probably agree that there are some ethnic groups who are treated differently than other ethnic groups in the criminal justice system. Statistically minorities are disproportionately victimized by crime.
“African Americans are victimized at a rate of 150 percent higher than whites” (Cole, 2000). Blacks are typically more involved in almost every kind of crime more so than whites. These crimes can include rape, aggravated assault, and armed robbery. Homicide is actually the number one leading cause of death among young black men. Most crime is interracial and so it could be argued, just as it can with the topic of biases against the poor that the reason for higher crime rates for black is because most poverty stricken areas, or the inner city, have majority black populations. Therefore the criminals would be black, the victims would be black, and all the statistics that came from that area would rate blacks more prone to commit crime than whites. Now lets look at some cases. For instance the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers was a huge eye-opener for most of America. It was said of that beating that for many blacks saw that as treatment they expected from the police. They were not surprised by that beating what so ever.
Curtis Tucker, a California Assemblyman, was quoted saying at a subsequent hearing on Los Angeles Police Department practices, “When black people in Los Angeles see a police car approaching, they don’t know whether justice will be meted out or whether judge, jury, and executioner is pulling up behind them.” There was even this one officer who earned the nickname “the Mechanic” because he would “tune people up” which apparently is police slang for beating up people. This “Mechanic” once testified that the beatings were widespread. When asked the question of weather he beat up people whom he arrested he replied, “No. We just beat people up in general. If they’re on the street, hanging around drug locations. Just—It was a show of force” (Rothwax, 1996). The officer even admitted that the majority of the beating victims were either black or Hispanic; although he claimed that the attacks were not motivated by racial tension. There have been very disturbing patterns of corruption and brutality in the police force of almost every high-crime area studied.
These corrupt acts include stealing from drug dealers, engaging in unlawful searches, seizures, and car stops, even dealing and using drugs. If instances like this is what our police force has come down to then our country is far worse off then I ever realized. I do however believe that this is probably a much smaller percentage than what some statistics would lead us to believe but it is not a problem that I believe can be overlooked. So what can be done? Can something be done? Are we as a country so far gone that we can come back? I believe we can. I believe that we have become to far separate from the community. We have to bridge the gap that has grown between law enforcement/the criminal justice system and the public lower class people. How do we do that? “The thing we need most is perspective” (Walker, 1980). One thing that could be the answer to our problem is community based policing. In Canada they passed the Police Services Act of 1990 that might be a good reference for our current agencies to look back on. What the Police Services Act did was make the Chief of Police responsible for community-oriented policing (Kuck, 2004).
“Community based policing is both a philosophy and an organizational strategy that allows the police and community to work together in new ways to solve problems of crime, disorder and safety. It really only has two elements: changing the methods and practice of the police and taking steps to establish a relationship between the police and the public” (Groenewald, 2004). The Philosophy of community based policing is based off of the idea that the public has a right to give their input on policing. It also relies on the idea that to find a solution for community problems both the police and the public must look past individual crimes and incidents, and instead try to find ways of confronting the more important community problems. What does community based policing look like though?
Community based police officers need to be much more than mere crime fighters and must be public servants in many ways. Reforming the police alone, however, is not enough. Community support and assistance are also necessary. Community based policing therefore encompasses strategies to reorient the public who, for good reasons, have been leery and distrustful of the police. Building partnerships between the police and communities is a major challenge that not many people or organizations have every really attempted. The philosophy of community based policing asks both the police and the public to take a leap of faith and a commitment to change. It would be a long process that would require drastic action to be taken at multiple levels meaning that there would be detailed planning necessary to turn philosophy into reality within the police and among the public.
There was a study where Kuotsia Tom Liou from the University of Central Florida and Eugene G. Savage from Florida State University looked at the impact of community policing by looking at three neighborhoods in West Palm Beach, Florida before and after the implementation of a community oriented policing program. Lets take a look at what they found. They had 3 communities with the first consisting of mainly white residents, mainly single-family homes, apartments, and small businesses. The second community was primarily black consisting of a concentrated public housing project, single family homes, apartments, small businesses, several churches, and a public middle school. The last community consisted of whites, Hispanics, blacks, and Haitians. The community was made up of single family homes, apartments, small businesses, and several churches. It was their goal to find out how community policing affects difference types of communities.
The results of their study showed that after the community based policing had been going on sixty-eight percent of surveyed citizens felt that crime had decreased. All age groups, race groups, and all three neighborhoods shared the belief that crime had decreased. Even if the crime rates had not gone down in reality it would still really help relations with police officers just that the citizens believe it had. In addition to the feeling like crime had gone down they also asked in their survey how they felt about the relationship after six months of the community policing.
Among the respondents to the survey eighty-eight percent felt that the relationship between the police and their communities as getting better. We started this paper with the question of is the criminal justice system bias. We talked about the relationship between law enforcement and the public. We talked about one of the possibilities of how we could rebuild that relationship. We then looked at some research where a relationship was made better by use of community policing. Hopefully we can use research like this to help make this world a more perfect world.
Cole, D. (2000). No equal justice, race and class in the american criminal justice system. New York: New Press, The.
Rothwax, H. (1996). Guilty: The collapse of criminal justice. New York: Random House.
Walker, S. (1980). Popular justice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kuck, H. (2004). Racial pride and consciousness trilogy: Addressing hate crime and racial discord through community policing. Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services. Dec. 2004: 243. Criminal Justice Collection. Web. 29 Oct. 2012.
Groenewald, H. and Peake, G. (2004). Police Reform through Community-Based Policing. New York.
Liou, Kuotsai. and Savage, Eugene. (1996). Citizen perception of community policing impact.