At the Intersection of Race, Class, & Gender in the Criminal Justice System by Cassie Kinney
In Race, Wrongful Conviction & Exoneration, Hattery and Smith (2011) state that race, class, and gender play a role in cases where people have been wrongly convicted of a crime. For example, their findings suggest that 90% of exonerations were male, and 75% were from minority groups. Interestingly, the authors found that white men made up fewer of the exoneration cases compared to the statistics of White men incarcerated, which suggests that black men are the most wrongfully convicted (Hattery & Smith, 2011.) According to the website The Innocence Project provided within the article, states that the number of exonerations is now up to 337, where the average number of years served is 14, and only 140 people have been found to be the real perpetrator. Because 95% of exoneration cases are for the crimes of rape and murder, DNA evidence was crucial to prove the innocence of a person. But DNA evidence will not help in every case such as robbery and other property crimes, some testing can be flawed analysis; and most inmates are not offered DNA testing. With this in mind, there may be more innocent people than once imagined and may never be found innocent.
Factors of false convictions include: false confessions, police officers and detectives presenting false evidence to suspects, snitches being paid to testify in exchange for being released from prison (Hattery & Smith, 2011.) Another factor is that "inaccuracies in eyewitness testimonies happen significantly more often in interracial cases" (Hattery & Smith, 2011, pp. 93.) Historically, there is a long-standing myth of the black rapist in the United States, and this is part of 10,000 lynchings between 1880 and 1930, as well as other false convictions blamed on black men (Hattery & Smith, 2011.) Actually mentioned below, many of the African American exonerees were indicted for raping white women, and historically, people that have attempted murder have blamed African American men on crimes they committed, and this racial bias creates more suspicion of the young, black man. When there is a disregard for black men and women, it is beyond incomprehensible how murders like Dylan Roof are given special treatment, for example when he killed black men and women in a church, he was escorted by the police to give him a burger before he was sent to prison, and the context behind Roof's murders, was to send a message for black men to stop engaging with white women.
For instance, taken from data by Gross, Hattery and Smith (2011) 6% of those incarcerated are actually innocent (or 140,000 people of the 2.2 million currently incarcerated may be innocent.) Hattery and Smith (2011) found that 84% of 87 cases involved an African American man allegedly raping or murdering a white woman, thus figuring that "African American men are four times more likely to be exonerated for raping White women compared to the number of times they actually commit this crime" (pp. 83.) Some of this wrongful conviction has to do with a White victim misidentifying an African American man. Of course for people wrongly convicted, their lives are lost from special moments, and you are taken away from family, opportunities, and time for education. A profound statement made by the authors, Hattery and Smith (2011), was: "the wrongful conviction of just these 250 individuals amounts to 7 million hours of lost work, $42 million dollars in lost wages, and the $87 million dollars used to incarcerate these individual who were factually innocent." (pp. 83.)
In the article, Breaking the Blue Wall of Silence, Cottler et al. (2014) states that the "Blue Wall of Silence" refers to an unspoken rule among groups of officers ignoring one another’s corruption and wrongdoings (Cottler et al., 2014.) This unwritten rule has to do with Police Sexual Misconduct (PSM) where poor, women of color are particularly targeted and affected due to the risks factors of their population. Those risks included stressful life events such as separation of parents, having children during adolescents, experienced child sexual abuse, or had drug addiction issues, for example: "93% of participants reported at least 1 of the 4 stressful life events examined" (Cottler et al., 2014, pp. 340.)
Moreover, 25% of the 378 female drug court enrollees that participated in the Sisters Teaching Options for Prevention (STOP) project, reported a lifetime history of PSM, and those 78 women reported that "96% had sex with an officer on duty, 77% had repeated exchanges, 31% reported rape by an officer, and 54% were offered favors by officers in exchange for sex" (Cottler et al., 2014, pp. 338.) Some of the women stated that they were as young as 15 when they engaged in sex with a police officer, and actually, 24% of the women that traded sex with an officer, done so while he was on duty with another officer (Cottler et al., 2014.) Of the participants, 70% of those affected by PSM were African American women and the rest White women (Cottler et al., 2014.) Particularly the women that were targeted in these acts had low levels of education and employment where only 48% of participants had received a high school diploma or GED, and 42% reported working in the past 12 months. Other interesting facts about the women in the study was their average age was 36, and that 95% of the women were not married, 39% were homeless, and 70% had been arrested 4 or more times in their lifetime (Cottler et al., 2014.) In all, the most marginalized women were those with symptoms of antisocial behavior that didn't have jobs and tended to use drugs, thus they were most likely to be vulnerable of PSM—especially if they had been involved in the criminal justice system prior.
Likewise, in the article Violence Against Women in Selected Areas of the United States, Montgomery et al. (2015), studied the prevalence of emotional, physical, and sexual violence against 2099 women (median age 29 years), living in the United States during 6 months between 2009 to 2010, and their associations with HIV-related risk factors (I.e. unprotected sex.) Montgomery et al., (2015) show the relationship between victimization of women and poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, and HIV risk. The study predicted women living with HIV, experience violence at a higher rate, and in fact women that reported intimate partner violence (IPV) within the last year, were more than three times likely to report a HIV/AIDS diagnosis, compared to women who reported IPV living without HIV (Montgomery et al., 2015.)
Furthermore, Montgomery et al. (2015) concluded that 86% of participants within the sample population were African American where more than half were unemployed, had a high school diploma or less; and a little less than half reported food insecurity as well as lived on less than $10,000. Almost half of the participants reported abuse in childhood, and had symptoms of depression or PTSD (Montgomery et al., 2015.) In fact, within the sample population, 31% reported emotional abuse, 19% reported physical violence, and 7% reported sexual violence during the 6 months (Montgomery et al., 2015.) Violence against women is a discrimination that particularly affects women of color, and although we have policies and shelters to protect women, still some women of color face a different reality than white women.
As demonstrated in the article above, those victimized individuals most likely face a host of mental health issues, emotional distress and are likely living in poverty. In Mental Health and Poverty in the Inner City, authors Ujunwa Anakwenze and Daniyal Zuberi (2013), explore the cycle of mental illness and poverty within urban environments. Anakwenze and Zuberi (2013) postulate that a cyclical phenomenon occurs for people living in neighborhoods that are dilapidated, have a lack of access to jobs and opportunities, with a high use of drugs, alcohol and violence among youths which may later lead to chronic stress resulting in mental health issues due to threat of victimization. In fact, within the criminal justice system, there is a high rate of mentally illness (Anakwenze & Zuberi, 2013.) In turn, those mentally ill who have been arrested, can't get jobs or don't have access to opportunities later, which perpetuates poverty. One of the best ways to prevent and reduce mental illness in the inner city is by engaging families while promoting mental health care services for children and adolescents at school. Something the authors mention is that there is somewhat of a mistrust within the community of health care professionals (Anakwenze & Zuberi, 2013.)
For instance, although discrimination is less overt and/or violent than in the past, there are forms microaggressions against people of color that force them to distrust and avoid people outside of their own race. But the barriers for people of color don't end there. As Shandra Forrest-Bank and Jeffrey Jenson (2015) states in their article, Differences in Experiences of Racial and Ethnic Microaggression among Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Black, and White Young Adults, discrimination is a significant risk factor for non-Whites (particularly women and children) on the basis of health, including psychological and emotional health. In fact according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, discrimination adversely affects access and quality of health and mental health services for people of color (Forrest-Bank & Jenson, 2015.) The authors of the study define microaggressions as forms of subtle and unintentional acts of discriminatory behavior, where they surveyed 409 undergraduate students who identified themselves as Asian, Latino, Black, and Whites to explore the different experiences of microaggressions (Forrest-Bank & Jenson, 2015.) Of the population sample, 30% were White, 25% Asian, 25% Latino/Hispanic, and 20% Black (Forrest-Bank & Jenson, 2015.)
In the study, the authors found that based on the Exoticization and Assumptions of Similarity subscale, Latino/Hispanic and Asian participants scored highest, and based on the Assumptions of Inferiority subscale, the population of Blacks and Latino/Hispanic in the sample had higher rates of types of microaggressions (microinsults, microassaults, and microinvalidation) than Asian participants (Forrest-Bank & Jenson, 2015.) Based on the Assumptions of Criminality subscale, all of the non-White scores were higher than the scores reported by White respondents (Forrest-Bank & Jenson, 2015.) Forrest-Bank and Jenson (2015) also reported that Black respondents had the highest rates of microinvalidations than Asian and White respondents (while no differences between Latino/Hispanic, Whites, and Asian respondents). Microinvalidation refers to the minimization of historical racial oppression. Particularly, Black respondents experienced the highest levels of interpersonal microaggressions, while White participants had the lowest microaggression scores on all scales, which reiterates perceived discrimination across all non-White groups.
From the research mentioned above, Blacks were seen as more inferior and criminal compared to other ethnic groups, which discrimination is further perpetuated in the criminal justice system. Likewise, it is a cycle where Blacks have been systematically segregated to be preyed upon, then falsely accused as stated in the research previously mentioned, and then the White media portrays a controlling image that reinforces the police and public's attitudes to justify deadly treatment of non-Whites. In the article Racism and Police Brutality in America, the authors Cassandra Chaney and Ray V. Robertson (2013) examine the rate of police brutality in America while exploring public attitude of law enforcement with emphasis on the treatment of Black men in the criminal justice system. One survey mentioned by Chaney and Robertson (2013) of 978 non-Hispanic Whites and 1,010 Blacks, 38 % of Whites viewed the criminal justice system as biased against Blacks while 56% of Whites saw the criminal justice system as treating Blacks fairly. In contrast, 89% of Blacks reported bias within the criminal justice system against other African Americans, while only 8% of Blacks thought that other African Americans were treated fairly.
Furthermore, Chaney and Robertson (2013) cite the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) which reported 5,986 cases of police misconduct, including 382 fatalities, as well as over $300,000,000 in settlements and judgments linked to the misconduct between April 2009 to June 2010. The comment section of the website was reviewed as well, where five people responded strongly with contempt for police officers, eight responded they were suspicious of law enforcement; 16 respondents replied that officers are agents of brutality and many described brutal stories of their own interactions with law enforcement, while seven respondents had respect for law enforcement.
Consequently, there is a growing suspicion of law enforcement as perpetrators of police brutality, but White populations sometimes tend to side with the police officer to justify the brutality. One could say that the police culture is a reflection of an hegemonic society—an environment that created Dylan Roof. In fact racism is so embedded in America, there are streets and statues of figures that opposed the end of slavery. In the article, From Ferguson to Charleston and Beyond, Anguish About Race Keeps Building, Lydia Polgreen (2015), states that Dylan Roof is in fact a "product of the same legacy of racism that many black Americans believe sent Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Tamir Rice to their graves." The author reminds the reader of the language used amongst White right-wing politicians in which they minimize the murder of 9 black men and women in a church to a story of a 'young man who is obviously twisted'. The author continues to remind the audience of the names of black men who were murdered at the hands of law enforcement, and an incident where a police officer was violent during a kids pool party in Texas. One interesting statistic rarely discussed was that there are as many as 1.5 million Black men missing (dead or in prison) in America (Polgreen, 2015.) It is the color of one's skin that determines how the police, public, and teachers treat people where our society has tended to place higher status towards light-skinned people.
the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC), researchers predict 1 in 10 Georgians will serve time in state prison in their lifetimes and in Georgia, 62% of inmates are Black (Burch, 2015.) In fact, "Medium-skinned blacks receive sentences that are about 200 days longer than those of whites, while dark-skinned blacks receive sentences that are 400 days longer" (Burch, 2015, pp. 407.) When analyzing how and why Black populations are disproportionately incarcerated and have longer sentences, it becomes clear when connecting incarceration rates to a type of racism called colorism, including the connection between criminality and a lack of opportunities within those same communities (and a host of other disadvantages.) When compared to the non-Hispanic white populations, the Black population faces higher rates of mental health and other health issues, high unemployment rate, significantly lower income, higher infant mortality rate, among other health issues (Burch, 2015.) These oppressions are a matrix of domination imposed upon young, poor, people of color at the intersection of race, class, and gender.
As mentioned, those who have been previously incarcerated, are in a situation where they do not have access to opportunities and there is a sense of alienation, but also may be turned down for a job if that person has a criminal record. In the article, Putting in Work: Black Male Youth Joblessness, Violence, Crime, and the Code of the Street, Joseph Richardson and Christopher St. Vil (2015), explore why and how 15 young, Black male offenders detained in an adult jail, used violent crimes to gain a sense of control and make money on the street. To put in perspective the 'why', in recent decades there has been a shift towards computer work and other white-collar jobs that requires a degree of education, which confines poor people to other types of jobs (Richardson & St. Vil, 2015.) Of the 15 participants studied, the average age was 16 and every participants was African American associated with youth gangs (Richardson & St. Vil, 2015.) Amongst the participants, a 'resume' and 'reputation' was built by going to jail or serving time the same way murdering, robbery, and hustling was part of their job—even as young as 12, these boys were performing violence to gain notoriety and respect on the streets. Stated by the authors, this phenomenon in a theoretical framework: "youth respond to endemic joblessness by employing specific empowerment strategies to achieve self-efficacy that can be helpful in alleviating oppressive situations" (Richardson & St. Vil, 2015, pp. 91.)
On the other side of the intersection of race, class, gender in the context of crime, Gary Giroux (2008) of What Went Wrong? Accounting Fraud and Lessons from the Recent Scandals, brings to light scandals within Enron, Tyco, and many other large companies, where affluent, White, businessmen participated in white-collar crime. Within Enron, debt was hidden, nonexistent profits were booked, prices of gas were manipulated and set at the price they wanted, and fake companies were created, and the list of fraudulent activity goes on (Giroux, 2008.) In 2001 before Enron declared bankruptcy, one tactic the company used was to give $55 million in bonuses to executives while firing 4,500 employees (Giroux, 2008.) Later, "over 30 Enron executives and employees were indicted by the Justice Department" (Giroux, 2008, pp. 1225.) One of the few Enron employees faced a 10-year prison sentence, and others faced long sentences (Giroux, 2008.) The company Tyco used ADT's Security Services 'Bermuda registration' to hide foreign earnings, and taxes were evaded; and the company Adelphia made false documents, hid money, and "cooked the books" so-to-speak (Giroux, 2008.)
In retrospect, the greed within White collar crime compared to the survival within street crime, shows the racial inequality in America. But also when considering who gets a more severe punishment and who committed the most crimes and damages, we also see the disparity for people of color in the criminal justice system. As mentioned repeatedly throughout the paper, people of color are disproportionately incarcerated and serve longer sentences, while financial fraud committed by White, affluent males serve less time if at all. One could say that society has legitimized this type of masculinity performance because of the interest and envy associated with accruing millions of dollars—even if that means earning it fraudulently.
In concluding how we can change the system in White collar crime, is by forming a diverse staff of women and people of color. Also, there needs to be internal investigations taken seriously when whistle blowers come forth. In other words, there always needs to be a search for truth. In the article Race, Wrongful Conviction & Exoneration (2011), one way to better the system is for the police to search for truth, instead of arresting any Black man who closely fits a victim's description. For example, the law stating that once convicted, individuals have no guaranteed right to post-conviction DNA testing is unconstitutional and should be changed. mass incarceration and police brutality are a reflection from the Jim Crow era. Consequently, police who murder unarmed persons should be sent to prison for the same sentence any other American who committed murder would be serving, including revoking license and firing officers that abuse their authority.
Secondly, something that needs to be explicitly reminded to the public is that citizens pay for people to be in prison. In fact, prisons, juvenile justice programs, and parole and other corrections programs make up about 4 percent of state budgets (roughly $49 billion), and these costs have grown in recent decades as states send more people to prison and leave them there for longer sentences ("Policy Basics", 2015.) The public is so concerned where their taxes are going, and thus they should be concerned when they are funding a prison system that wrongfully convicts people at a rate of 6% ("Policy Basics", 2015.) This also means that the prison system has failed to catch the real perpetrator who may still committing terrible crimes of rape or murder. The public should be more concerned with perpetrators of murder, violence and rape. When you consider that most who are incarcerated are drug users, it seems that the prison system has failed when they were supposed to be finding the king pin. From one perspective, there should less of a focus on criminalize drug users and focus on getting them treatment.
Working from the criminal justice system, as explicated in the article Breaking the Blue Wall of Silence (Cottler et al., 2014), "The women involved may be equally unwilling or unlikely to report PSM to the authorities out of fear of retaliation, of being blamed, of not being believed because of their substance use history and criminal justice involvement, or of being arrested and charged with prostitution" (pp. 342.) These findings should call attention to law enforcement for internal investigations of their own officers and view the women in these cases as victims of the police officers' abuse of control, protection, and power. When framing prevention of racist attitudes, policing, and other systematic forms of oppression and racism, we cannot so easily fix problems within the laws, and perhaps start at socialization. For instance, prevention measures at the level of high school and college should expose students to microaggression examples and integrate knowledge about common microaggressions of non-White groups. When recognizing different treatment of non-Whites, also have students recognize the commonalities all people share and the importance of equality and justice by looking at your own interpersonal feelings of how you want to be treated.
As previously stated throughout the paper, people living in concentrated urban areas of violent crimes segregated from services, opportunities, and community support, may be at risk of victimization or even influenced by deviant behavior in the community to make money through unconventional means. These areas also tend to be heavily surveillanced as well, where even the mentally ill or innocent people have a high chance of being incarcerated. People living in the most dire of circumstances look for a control in their life, whether that's performing masculinity, selling their body or drugs; and in a hegemonic society, this could include various deviant or risky behaviors. Considering this, there is a need for a socialization process—preventing the cycle of poverty and mental illness by mobilizing coalitions and political advocacy to create community, or school based services, to break down barriers for those at risk youth (Anawenze and Zubari, 2013.)
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