FAIR AND UNBIASED JUSTICE SYSTEM

A fair and unbiased criminal justice system is one where all people, regardless of their identities, are treated equitably by law enforcement officers and members of the justice system, including lawyers, prosecutors, and judges. If an individual is already in contact with the justice system, they should have access to affordable and high-quality legal services. Ensuring fairness within the justice system necessitates ending the privatization of prison facilities, eradicating disproportionately punitive policies and encouraging the health and rehabilitation of individuals that have been impacted by mass incarceration.

DISPARITIES AND STATISTICS

  • Race and Ethnicity: The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 35% of state prisoners are white, 38% are black, and 21% are Hispanic. In twelve states more than half of the prison population is African American. Though the reliability of data on ethnicity is not as strong as it is for race estimates, the Hispanic population in state prisons is as high as 61% in New Mexico and 42% in both Arizona and California. In an additional seven states, at least one in five inmates is Hispanic.41

  • Socioeconomic Status: In many jurisdictions in the United States, people who are arrested and do not have money to pay bail are jailed while awaiting trial. While some people are denied bail because they are at risk of flight or illegal activity, most are detained solely because they are too poor to pay. Pretrial detention interferes with employment, payment of bills, and caregiving, and can inflict extraordinary psychological damage. Even for minor offenses, people who are detained pretrial are more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to receive a longer sentence. Many poor people charged with misdemeanors appear in court hearings without a lawyer, where they must make the untenable choice of pleading guilty and being released (burdened by fines, court costs, and other collateral consequences of a criminal conviction that they cannot afford) or remaining in jail indefinitely waiting for a lawyer.42

  • Health: People held in correctional facilities are the only group in the U.S. with a constitutional right to healthcare. Yet, the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions inside many correctional facilities combined with poor nutrition, lack of ventilation, enforced idleness, and the impact of violence, trauma, and solitary confinement can have long-term negative effects on health that infringe on the constitutional and human rights of prisoners and detainees. Each year, millions of incarcerated people—who experience chronic health conditions, infectious diseases, substance use, and mental illness at much higher rates than the general population—return home from correctional institutions to communities that are already rife with health disparities, violence, and poverty, among other structural inequities.43

Antonio Lewis