Yesterday, journalist Radley Balko published a column in the Washington Post that catalogues and summarizes the empirical evidence of racial bias in the criminal justice system. Balko cites the continued skepticism about the system being racially biased as his impetus for compiling the extensive list of evidence. Although race isn’t the only thing we should be concerned about in the criminal justice system, “the problems tend to be exacerbated when you factor race into the equation,” Balko explains.
Balko’s list is separated into sections, showing how racial bias operates in some form at every stage of the criminal justice system—evidence which he calls “overwhelming.” Some of the categories he includes are policing and profiling, juries and jury selection, the death penalty, prosecutorial discretion and sentencing, to name just a few. And, he even includes a section of studies that do not find racial bias in the system, of which there are far fewer.
Listed below are three studies Balko cites about the connection between race and wrongful convictions:
- “Black people are also more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder when the victim was white. Only about 15 percent of people killed by black people were white, but 31 percent of black exonorees were wrongly convicted of killing white people. More generally, black people convicted of murder are 50 percent more likely to be innocent than white people convicted of murder.”
- “Innocent black people are also 5 times more likely than white people to be wrongly convicted of sexual assault and 12 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of drug crimes. (And remember, data on wrongful convictions is limited in that it can only consider the wrongful convictions we know about.)”
- “According to figures from the National Registry of Exonerations (NER) black people are about five times more likely to go to prison for drug possession than white people. According to exoneration data, black people are also 12 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of drug crimes.”