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Combating Racial Inequalities In The Criminal Justice System

In a webinar hosted by the Urban Institute and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, experts discussed a National Academies of Sciences report called "Reducing Racial Inequality in Crime and Justice: Science, Practice, and Policy." María Vélez, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland said that to understand racial inequality in the criminal legal system, “you have to both address issues related to historical legacies that produce the systems of inequality, and then you also have to address issues within the system.” An example of historical legacies is "Black codes" dating from the Civil War that acted as a system of law and order to control Black populations. Black codes heavily restricted Black people's rights and freedom. They couldn't own land, create a business or freely enter public spaces. Another issue, said John Eason of the Urban Institute, is that the current system of collecting accurate data is subpar. “Law enforcement is in charge of data collection, and they aren't always the best and the most accurate at collecting data,” Eason said. “You can see this in how they identify people they're arresting, charging, and everything else.”

Eason reasons that law enforcement does not want harmful data exposed about the justice system, and it is expensive to investigate bias. Vélez called for using communities to make sure those involved in policy innovations are held responsible. “We saw the community is really holding a lot of promise in terms of addressing some of these issues that are plaguing some communities more than others,” Vélez said. More community block grants and resources could be provided to local organizations to stimulate social organizations “that also help reduce crime,” Vélez said. Another recommendation offered was to disincentivize prison buildings. To reduce their footprint, Eason recommends looking at the demand side, “We have to look at where prisons are being built, where immigrant detention centers are being built and offer those communities prioritized incentives... to get other developments,” Eason said.


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