Nothing happens in a vacuum. Poverty plays a major role in crime and people of color are far more likely to live in poverty than whites. They are also more likely to be arrested and convicted. See the below from the Orange County Public Defenders Office regarding this subject:
*There is good reason to fear that minority men are severely at risk in the criminal justice system. 71% of all “3 strike” offenders in California prisons are African Americans or Latino Americans. What is worse, these men are all serving 25 to life sentences. Unbelievably, many of these men are serving these life sentences for petty theft and minor drug offenses. Offenses such as these are common among the poor. So common in fact that minority people suffer imprisonment wildly disproportional to their numbers in the general population.
For example, while previous studies have shown that African Americans and white Americans use drugs at about the same rate, African Americans are charged at nearly five times the rate of whites, and in “3 strikes” cases at 17 times the rates of whites in Los Angeles.
Alex Schiraldi, Director of the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice made this astute and somewhat caustic observation about the disproportionate prosecution of African Americans and other minorities for drug use:
“If you sent the police into white neighborhoods with the same concentration, you would draw a much different conclusion”…“I am not accusing judges or District Attorneys of being Ku Klux Klan members…I am talking about a subtler form of institutional racism. And the difference to me is that if four in 10 young white men were under the control of the criminal justice system, we could not be passing “three strikes” laws or building more prisons, we would be funding education, jobs and drug treatment.”
Minorities are treated differently in the courts. They are viewed with suspicion, they are held in custody longer, they are presumed guilty, their defense is poorly funded compared to the prosecution, and they are often treated abusively by the people who are charged with enforcing our laws.
In this same survey, lawyers were more than twice as likely as judges to agree with statements that minority lawyers are often treated as second-class professionals by judges; that judges tend to favor the prosecutor over the public defender in cases involving minority defendants, and that judges and prosecutors are members of an “old boy” network that excludes minorities.
Even though we are the most affluent country in the world, we continue to commit a greater proportion of our citizens to prison than any other civilized country. The vast majority of these people are poor. *