||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Bias in Black and White
By: Dale Recinella
As noted in our last column, we are addressing the series of six pastoral letters on the criminal justice system issued by our Catholic Bishops in the South.
In the first pastoral letter of the series, Challenges for the Criminal Justice Process in the South, the Bishops raise the issue of racial bias, saying:
“There is evidence of racism in the criminal justice system. In the age group 25-29, just over 1% of white males are in state or federal prison, compared to 3% of Hispanic males and 10% of African American males. Racial profiling of African Americans remains a troubling practice in too many areas of law enforcement. … There are now more black men in jail or prison than there are in colleges or universities.”
The racial disparities exist across gender lines as well. A 2004 report by The Sentencing Project indicates that “one of every 18 black females born today can expect to go to prison … six times the rate for white women.”
The statistics bear out such racial disparities across all age groups and across all states, including the South. For example, the rate of incarceration per 100,000 in population in Florida is only 536 for whites, but is 2,591 for blacks, a ratio of almost five times higher. Similar ratios obtain throughout the rest of the South. Nationally, one third of all black males born today can expect to be incarcerated.
When it comes to capital punishment, the discrepancies based on race can be nothing short of phenomenal. Although only 12 percent of Floridians are black, African Americans make up over 35% of Florida’s death row. Yet, the real racial bias in the death penalty is based on the race of the victim of the crime. In Florida, a defendant is more than three times more likely to receive the death penalty for killing a white than for killing a black. In Georgia the ratio is more than seven times. And a black who kills a white in Georgia is nearly twenty-two times more likely to receive the death penalty than a black who kills a black. In Florida’s history with the death penalty, back to 1769, no white person has ever been executed for killing a black.
Some of this can be explained by history. As detailed and documented in my book on capital punishment, The Biblical Truth about America’s Death Penalty, the modern American death penalty is historically rooted in the death penalty of slavery.
Some of this is attributable to outright racially discriminatory practices. These can be as blatant as racial profiling or the deliberate use of legal tactics to eliminate African Americans from juries, as occurred in a recent Texas case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some of it is attributable to unintended consequences of politically popular laws. For example, crack cocaine is a derivative of powder cocaine. Yet, Federal drug laws provide much harsher sentences for crack cocaine (known as the ‘poor black drug’) than for powder cocaine (known as the ‘rich white drug’). Selling just 5 grams of crack carries the same sentence as selling 500 grams of powder.
And enforcement can be selective. Even though two-thirds of users are white, in the year 2001, 83% of crack defendants were black.
These racial disparities are destructive of communities and of families. On any given day, one out of every 14 black American children has a parent in prison or jail.
The teaching of our Catholic Church is quite clear. As stated in paragraph 1935 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”
The Catholic Bishops of the South are simply calling us to put our faith into action by eradicating racial bias in our criminal justice system.
First published: The Florida Catholic, August 4, 2006
© 2006 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed