Criminal justice reform advocates in Tennessee and across the country have highlighted racial disparities in incarceration rates, noting that the legal system has been unfair to black Americans. These racial gaps have continued decades after the end of Jim Crow segregation, exacting devastating effects on communities of color. One study finds a reason for optimism in the declining gap in racial incarceration rates. However, the gap persists, and there are other serious issues for concern, experts note.
In the United States, black people are still more likely to spend time in prison than white people, and in some cases by multiple times over. Still, according to the Council on Criminal Justice, the incarceration rate gap has dropped dramatically over 16 years of statistics. The council is a nonpartisan association that involves government officials from both major political parties, advocates for criminal justice reform and police representatives.
In the year 2000, according to the Council’s report, black individuals were 15 times likelier to be put in prison than white people for drug crimes. By 2016, that multiple had dropped to five times, although still a cause for serious concern. Drug offenses, particularly nonviolent drug convictions, were a common target of reform efforts. In addition, widespread social and legal changes, like the opioid epidemic and cannabis legalization, have led to changes in drug criminalization and enforcement.
Experts noted that black people continue to face higher rates of arrest, especially as police operations may focus more heavily on neighborhoods of color or poor neighborhoods affected by specific types of crime. In addition, black defendants continue to receive higher prison sentences than white defendants.
Whatever a person’s race, facing criminal charges can carry lifelong consequences, including jail time, heavy fines and a felony criminal record. An attorney who specializes in criminal defense may assist people of crimes with challenging police and prosecution allegations and strive to avoid a conviction.