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The Devastating Impact of the Justice System on the Status of African-American Males: an Overview Perspective</p>

Floyd D. Weatherspoon

Permission pending: Floyd D. Weatherspoon, The Devastating Impact of the Justice System on the Status of African-american Males: an Overview Perspective, 23 Capital University Law Review 23 (1994) (214 Footnotes Omitted)


To assert that African-American males are adversely or disproportionately impacted by the American justice system is to understate the devastating effect that the justice system is having on the status of African-American males. Indeed, at each step of the criminal justice system, from arrest through incarceration and execution, black males are penalized without conscience, remorse, or constitutional protection. Moreover, when African-American males seek legal redress to vindicate their legal rights within the civil justice system, they also face unyielding obstacles of bias in pursuing such claims.

Statistical data unequivocally supports the negative impact of the criminal justice system and other institutional systems on African-American males. The data, however, has been cited so frequently that it is no longer startling to our society. This readily available information has been dehumanized and trivialized to the point that it is considered just a fact of life in urban America. Some researchers have characterized African-American males as “obsolete and dangerous,” “an endangered species,” and “broken lives.” The most frequently cited data on African-American males includes:

One in four black men in the United States in the age group 20-29 is under the control of the criminal justice system--in prison or jail, on probation or parole.

African-American males presently represent 48% of all individuals arrested for drug violations.

African-American males represent almost 40% of individuals on death row.

More African-American males are incarcerated than enrolled in college.

On any given day, African-American males are at least 8 times more likely to be in prison than white males.

The devastating impact of the justice system on the status of African-American males also directly or indirectly affects other institutional systems and processes. African-American males typically rank at the bottom of every study or statistical report regarding education, health, and employment. For example:

The death rate from homicide . . . for black males ages 25-34 is almost 5 times as high as for black females (108 vs. 21.9), 7.4 times as high as for white males (108 vs. 13.6), and 24 times as high as . . . for white females (108 vs. 4.4).

African-American males have a lower life expectancy than all other groups.

African-American males are disproportionately suspended from school.

African-American males have the highest dropout rate in elementary and secondary school, as well as in college, if they go at all.

African-American males have the highest level of unemployment.

Even though it is quite evident that there is a correlation between the plight of African-American males and their treatment by our justice system, until very recently, there has been very little legal discourse, scholarship, or any concerted response from the legal community to address these issues. Various state and local organizations, legislatures, and the federal government, however, have recently made a concerted effort to examine the deplorable status of African-American males.

The Rodney King incident forced most Americans to admit that African-American males are treated differently by the law enforcement community. Nevertheless, this level of awareness has long since evaporated from the minds of most white Americans. Most Americans have never heard of, nor remember the Malice Green incident. But for African-Americans, especially black males, the realities of the Rodney King and Malice Green incidents are a part of their life's fabric to be reckoned with on a daily basis.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the plight of African-American males in this country and to identify how their status is directly or indirectly impacted by our justice system. This article will not attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of all the issues identified, nor to provide remedies. In this regard, it is hoped that this overview will engender further research and scholarship into possible remedies by others in their respective fields on the various issues raised.

The first part of the article identifies stereotypical biases that exist concerning African-American males and shows how our justice system sanctions, perpetuates, and in some cases creates these stereotypes. The second part of the article focuses on the impact of the criminal justice system on African-American males. Finally, areas where African-American males are treated less favorably by other institutional systems are identified.