Race and Justice in America Part 1

Back on Febrary 29, 2008, an article Nentitled New High In U.S. Prison Numbers appeared in the Washingtom Post. That article said that mearly ome per cent of the adult population of the United States is behinf bars at an annual cost of nearly $50 billion a year. Those numbers are very disturbing, both from a moral and a sociological perspective.

The main question that needs to be answered is why are so many people in prison? Are the American people inherently evil? Or is there something seriously wrong with our sense of jsutice and how we implement justice instutionally? The article does not answer those questions, nor can I answer them here. That would require a whole book and years of research. All I can do today is offer a few clues and ask some questions that might help to shed some light on this issue.

The CNN web site featured the following story this morning: Man cleared by DNA free after 27 years , a story about a black man wrongly convicted in Dallas County, Texas in 1981 for a murder he did not commit. He thanks the Innocence Project [link below] for their assistance in getting him exonerated.

After reading his story, I went to the Innocence Porject web site and found the following statistics of interest:

  • Sixteen people had been sentenced to death before DNA proved their innocence and led to their release.
  • The average sentence served by DNA exonerees has been 12 years.
  • About 70 percent of those exonerated by DNA testing are members of minority groups.
  • In over 35 percent of the cases profiled here, the actual perpetrator has been identified by DNA testing.
  • Exonerations have been won in 32 states and Washington, D.C.

From Innocence Project web site.

According to the Innocence Project of Texas web site, Texas has had more exoneration cases – more cases of wrongful conviction – than any state in the United States, and Dallas County leads all counties, not only in Texas, but in the whole country, in such cases.

Also, Texas holds the distinction of applying and enforcing the death penalty than any other state and Harris County – which includes Houston – has the distinction of having an execution rate higher than any state, except, of course, Texas itself. This is according to New Look at Death Sentences and Race published in today’s New York Times.

Now, before I get bombarded by lots of angry Texans, let me say that I am not picking on Texas. I am only using the evidence from Texas because it is the most significant, statistically speaking, and because it is the most easily available, because of its statistical significance. I believe the situation in Texas very much reflects the national situation here in the United States, and the conclusions we will draw from the Texas evidence applies not only to Texas, but to every state in the United States and the US as a whole.

According to a recent study looking at the correlation between capital punishment and race, and yes, based on evidence from Texas and Harris County, there is significant statistical correlation between the race of the defendant, the race of the victim, and whether or not the prosecution seeks the death penalty. [New Look at Death Sentences and Race ]

So, if we extrapolate from the Texa evidence using the national statistics from the Innocence Project as a guideline, it seens that “liberty and justice for all” in the United States is still highly discriminatory and in serious need of repair. Whether Barack Obama wants to admit it publicly or not, race is and should be an issue in this year’s Presidential election. That is the topic of tomorrow’s post. Until then, peace!

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