Is the Justice System Rigged Against Young Black Men?

Prentiss Smith  By Prentiss Smith , 12th Nov 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>News>Politics

This column discusses local sentencing policies in Louisiana specifically and the nation broadly.

News, Politics, Crime




I recently spent some time in courtrooms in Lincoln, Webster, and Caddo parishes, and it broke my heart. It broke my heart because of what I saw in these court rooms--- young black men between the ages of 18 and 30 years of age who are being brought before judges in these parish courtrooms for non-violent drug offenses. The numbers are staggering. Many of these young men come from poor families who can't afford the costs associated with the adjudication of these non-violent offenses--bail bondsmen, lawyer's fees, court costs, and all the other unforeseen occurrences---socially and culturally. Putting these young men in jail is not the answer to the ills that face this demographic. The answer is to provide them with more opportunities and more access to the types of programs that are going to help them be productive citizens. Throwing them in jail for drug possession or small time drug sales is not helping this country and it is certainly not helping them. The current justice system has become a system that feeds on these young men for resources. Law enforcement agencies have become dependent on the number of bodies that they can house in their jails. The more young men that are arrested--the more money the city, parish, or state can get from the federal government. It is a self perpetuating madness that is consuming our justice system and ruining the lives of many young black men, who only need some understanding and compassion. They do not deserve to be made criminals for misdemeanor drug offenses. This is not just a phenomenon that is affecting courtrooms in north Louisiana, but it is happening in courtrooms all across the country.
We as a nation are warehousing young blacks in our prisons at astounding numbers that is costing hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a costly and unnecessary way to punish these young men. Don't get me wrong, I believe that if you do the crime you ought to do the time. But smoking marijuana and selling drugs is not the type of crimes that we should be filling our jails behind. The truth is that jails should be a place where we put murderers, rapists, child molesters and other violent


criminals. It should not be a place where we put people who commit non violent offenses. It is a sad commentary on our justice system, but courtrooms across the country are full of young black males whose only crime it seems is that their skin happens to be black. A recent report from the justice department found that blacks are being arrested for non-violent drug crimes at a rate of 4 to 1 to whites who outnumber blacks by a ratio of 6 to 1. There is something wrong with that discrepancy. And there are many who believe that justice does not reside in the courtrooms of America for these young black men.
Race and racism is and has always been a tricky subject to talk about in this country. There are those who deny that racism exists today and there are those who see racism around every corner. The fact is that neither one of these beliefs is true. Racism does exist, but not everything or everybody is racist. The country has come a long way over the last sixty years relative to race relations, but the country still has a long way to go.
The so called war on drugs has turned out to be a war on young black men in this country. Young black men have become cash cows for law enforcement agencies. The country is not building new colleges and universities, but we are building new state of the art prisons to house these young men. How obscene is that? There are other ways to punish these individuals, but warehousing them in jails and prisons around the nation is not the smartest and most prudent way to achieve the goals that we all seek, which is to make sure that real criminals are put away and those who need help---get that help. There are young men whose lives are being destroyed because they have misdemeanor drug offenses on their record, which causes them to be un-employable. If you can't be employed--you can't live a decent life. These young black men are just throw away human beings that we have decided to wash our hands of, and just put them away. These young men have families who love them and who believe that the system is rigged against them because of the color of their skin. And unfortunately


We used to talk about justice that was color blind, but the hard reality is that justice has never been
color blind in this country, and I am sorry to say, it never will be. We can find other ways to punish these individuals, but criminalizing them because of non-violent drug offenses is not the most effective and humane way to address these problems. Effective parenting, mentoring, education, job training, and providing access to employment is the only thing that is going to help these young men, who are becoming an endangered species in this country. We can and should do better by these young men. And that's my take.

Tags

Drugs, Government, Justice, Prisons, Race, Sentencing

Meet the author

author avatar Prentiss Smith
Prentiss Smith has written opinion columns for the Gannett owned Shreveport Times for almost 20 years. He also has particpated in weekly television shows as a political commentator.

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