Criminal justice reform advocates in Minnesota have drawn attention to the racial disparities that persist across the country in imprisonment rates and sentencing. According to a study conducted by the Council on Criminal Justice, these racial gaps have decreased over the past 16 years. The council is a non-partisan organization that includes experts from different perspectives on criminal justice, including reform advocates, government officials and police representatives. At the same time that the study highlights positive outcomes, it also raises concerns about the persistence of serious racial gaps.
The report noted that gaps in incarceration rates between black and white Americans have declined between 2000 and 2016 in state and local jails and prisons as well as in the parole and probation systems. While the results showed similar trends over all major categories of crime, the largest decrease in racial disparity was found in terms of drug offenses. Drug crime sentencing has drawn widespread attention due to its massive impact on communities of color for largely nonviolent crimes. The legalization of cannabis and the opioid epidemic have also led to changes in the policing of drug crimes. While black people were 15 times as likely as white people to be imprisoned for drug crimes in 2000, that multiple dropped to five times by 2016.
While this is a positive result, it is still a significant disparity. In addition, experts noted other areas where no decrease was found in racial gaps in treatment. In particular, black defendants are more likely to receive longer, harsher prison sentences, and black Americans are more likely to be arrested.
A criminal conviction can have serious consequences for people of any race, including jail time and a felony record. A criminal defense attorney may help people facing criminal charges to challenge police allegations and aim to prevent a conviction.