Race and Class and Criminal Justice System in the US


America is described as a country with diverse races. The United States is a powerful economy featuring very wealthy and poor people. It also has a justice system based on democracy. Criminal justice, however, is frequently known to be influenced by racial and class biases that have been dominant for a long time. People of lower social class and African-Americans are vulnerable to being arrested, convicted, and getting longer sentences than the rest of the American people. The inequalities are evident in the treatment of suspects, convicts and prisoners. Decisions made by the courts have often favored the wealthy and the white people. The legislature is made by the whites and the wealthy since the minority are not represented in the justice system. Neighborhoods and background information are also used by the courts to make decisions. Resources to fight crime are concentrated in the area where African- Americans reside and in the lowest social class neighborhoods. The minorities have the lowest level of education and the highest number of unemployment compared to the wealthy. Class and race issues can be overcome by investigating and getting as much information as possible concerning the inequalities. A community-based approach and fairness in the justice system would be necessary to transform the criminal justice system.


America has an enormous number of racial diversities hence it has also been known as a democracy. It is also one of the greatest economies in the world. However, economic success is unequally distributed hence social classes have emerged and remained dominant. Similarly, the justice system has also been accused of being unfair in judgments, where they make the ruling based on economic status and skin color. Imprisonment of a convict not only affects the victim but also the entire family as well. Consequently, society has lost trust in the American justice system. In American history; crime was much lower a century ago. This was because most of the crimes were not reported. Today, the matter is treated differently and more resources are allocated to areas with prominent crimes. Another feature of history is that the poor were the majority in prisons and were serving a longer term than the rich. The situation was synonymous with low levels of education and high unemployment. Today, there are increased numbers of people in prison and many are of lower social class and African- American (Barak 2000, p. 1).

In line with Kangas (2010, p.1), crime is common in all races and all social classes. However, statistics reveal that people from low social classes and certain races have been over-represented in the criminal justice system. This essay will discuss the issue of race and class and how these dynamics interface with the criminal justice system in the United States.

Literature review

The problem and Hypotheses

The criminal justice system of the United States is given the responsibility of bringing justice to criminals by applying the law equally. This is not the case and the public has lost faith in their ability to offer services without being influenced by race and class. A majority of the convicts and prisoners seem to be African-American or from the lower social class.

It has been assumed that young African-Americans are probable criminals. They are also associated with gang and drug addictions. Most are assumed to be school dropouts with little education and from poor backgrounds. People from the lowest social class are also believed to live in neighborhoods with a culture of crime. The poor are also deemed to commit petty crimes (Barlow 1998, p. 150).

Research on race and class issues in the US

The Sentencing Project (2008, p. 7) points out that the issue of racism is prominent in the justice system. Their investigations show that a race disparity exists because there is an increased crime. Of the many crimes that occur, not all are reported. The number of those who commit a crime and were not arrested is not recorded. Statistics obtained from the Federal Bureau of the investigation reveal that African- Americans are leading in particular crimes. The police may choose to concentrate on a particular crime that has been funded and this also affects the arrests made with respect to color and social status. Depending on race and class, one may be vulnerable to getting involved in the criminal justice system.

Criminal history is another factor that may encourage the overrepresentation of a particular race in the justice system. A person with a previous history of crime is prone to receiving a jail term compared to the first-time offenders. The residential location and their social status are also considered. Places that have more representation of the police are also known to have an increased number of arrests. More so, crimes reported by the members of the public are also common.

Inquiries made by the Sentencing Project (2008, p. 8) show that the numbers of young African-Americans reported being involved in crime are higher than the whites. Future involvement in the crime later in life attracted a heavy and longer punishment. The investigations also disclosed that a lot of resources were invested in a location where the low-income earners lived. Moreover, there is different treatment for people belonging to higher social classes.

Unequal distribution of wealth is a dominant issue in the justice system. The justice system has been influenced by the investments made in particular situations, the availability of health facilities, and the education level of the population. Resources have often been misallocated and have led to an interface with the criminal justice system. For instance, the middle class is required to pass through screening which affects their values (Barak 2000, p. 1).

The criminal justice system has been persistent in racial bias. This has been revealed in attitude towards members of a particular color, sometimes the language is spoken and assumptions. Racial bias occurs when the officers in the justice system have poor relations with members of the same race. Moreover, attorneys representing a certain race may not receive the same treatment as those of the coveted race. Poor relations with an inmate and the members of their family may indicate racism.

Court decisions are affected by a number of factors concerning the racial composition and the social background status of the victim. The suspect and their people, the police, the offended, witnesses, and the prosecutor all influence decision-making on the racial and class composition.

In line with Welch (2007, p. 276), stereotypes are prominent and play a major part in the criminal justice system in the United States. African-American men are commonly believed to be potential criminals. A major portion of the public believes that youthful African–American men are prone to committing a crime. On the mention of gangsters, violent deeds, and street fighting, the deeds are considered as the acts of young African-American men. The stereotype about young African American men is deeply rooted in history.


The population lives in isolated neighborhoods in the United States. According to Cole (2001, p. 24), African-Americans and Americans live in different neighborhoods. The crimes committed then become racial and the resources against crime are directed towards the African-American neighborhoods. As a result, the resources allocated to protect the African-Americans lead to more arrests of the African-Americans. The African-Americans are victimized as a race. Thus, low-income African-Americans are victimized unequally due to education. The upper-class lives in different neighborhoods from the lower income. Most African-Americans are low-income earners. Children from lower-class get little education and are involved in crime as opposed to the educated children from wealthy neighborhoods.

The amount required for bail has been found to indicate racism. Bailing an African-American is slightly higher than others as discussed by Welch (2007, p. 286). The inequality in bailing applies to the same crime.

Cole (2001, p. 24) argues that the criminal justice system pledges to be equal. The justice system holds that all are equal before the law. From the law courts to the Supreme Court, one could predict the outcome of a court on the basis of analyzing the social and economic background of a suspect. This is partly because some of the races assume that they are superior to others and that they cannot be equal with the rest.

Kangas (2010, p.1) argues that the poor are more likely to be arrested than those from the middle class or upper social class. Even when the same crime is committed by the wealthy, the poor are likely to be arrested if there is a likelihood of them going to prison. This is also because those convicted are young people without advanced education. The police accept to settle crimes informally with the parents of children from wealthy families and are not lenient with the poor families and they end up arresting the child.

The poor are unable to hire an attorney and thus the state assigns them one. The assigned attorneys are often in a hurry and are likely to misrepresent the convict. The wealthy can afford the bail and have an opportunity to conduct investigations. Their money can afford the best attorneys and private detectives.

Race and class differences are also prevalent among the minority class and minority race. The number of blacks facing the death penalty is higher than those of Hispanics and white.

Lawyers are reluctant to be assigned a convict facing the death penalty. The expenses involved in the prolonged cases make them shy away. Those facing the death penalty come from the lower social classes (Kangas 2010, p.1)

A higher number of poor and African-Americans are denied probation as compared to the number of the wealthy. What is more, is that they also get longer sentences for similar crimes. One of the challenges is that a majority of the educated and the judges in court are white hence fighting inequality becomes more challenging.


It is argued that the highest level of education one attains is one of the factors that may be considered during decision-making in courts. The neighborhood where one grew up is sometimes considered. When looking for employment, the same issues of race and class also manifest. Young black males have narrow chances of getting employed. This is because there is a stereotype that they are prone to crime (Rose & Clear 1998).

Children from low-income families may drop out of school due to a lack of funds. A majority of them will therefore get low-paying jobs and may engage in crime. People with higher education are likely to remain as good citizens and not engage in crime. A majority of school dropouts is black people. A higher number of blacks who drop out of school are also known as possible criminals.

Legislative laws

In American history, the number of legislations on crime related to drugs and violence has significantly increased. The crimes that are associated with black people are drug-related and violent crimes. The legislations range from being in possession of drugs to trafficking drugs. There has been the allocation of resources in the fight against drugs and violent crime. The police have also increased their efforts to fight the drug menace and have concentrated on this area for a long. The concentration of allocation of resources has been concentrated in specific areas that are prone to crime and drug-related problems. The neighborhoods are dominated by the middle class and the low-class citizens. For this reason, Cole (2001, p. 30) believes that the issues of race and class are not about to end.

The legislative representation of black people in the United States is low. The black people have not been able to win legislative seats in the elections. Legislations are made and passed by the white hence; the burden is passed on to the black people as they continue to remain as a minority (Chiricos & Eschholz 2000, p. 438).

Crimes related to drugs have harsh punitive measures. Those found guilty of drug-related crimes serve a longer-term in jail. A majority of the criminals are African- American young men. Consequently, a majority of the prisoners will be black people. The black people tend to dwell in urban areas hence crime rates in the urban areas are commonly believed to be undertaken by the uneducated African American young men. The groups are also thought to be gangs and drug addicts (Austin & Irwin 2001).

Public awareness and the media

The issues of race and class have remained dominant and the public is more aware of the issue as Cole (2001, p. 31) argues. The public has even entered into a protest against the criminal justice system. The media has publicized these issues and investigated the opinion of the criminal justice system. The political leaders have openly condemned racism and class in the justice system. President Clinton publicly announced that profiling is done in prisons. Profiling was going on to enable the authorities to gather statistics on race among other factors.

The media has also been active in showing racial disparity and social-economic differences in the society in films as argued by Welch (2007, p. 283). The African- Americans in filmmaking feature as criminals. Additionally, the media has further featured black athletes as well as celebrities as people who have committed crimes.

The nature of crimes committed by the wealthy is lower than those of the poor. The wealthy are associated with crimes such as failure to pay taxes, fraud, and embezzlement. On the other hand, the poor’s common crimes are theft, burglary and robbery (Kangas 2010, p.1).

Effects on families

A common characteristic of the prison is that some races are overrepresented and a majority of the prisoners come from middle- and low-income families. Some of the prisoners have significantly supported their families and played a role in the well-being of their families. The families they leave behind may end up in devastating situations. Consequently, some families have broken while children remain under the care of a single parent. In some cases where the prisoner was a single parent, the children may find themselves in a foster home. As a result, children of the prisoners are likely to come into contact with the justice system. This is a result of less supervision and a lack of role models to teach them to work hard.

Chiricos et al (2004, p. 359) argue that the financial burden is carried by a single parent after one of the parents has been arrested. The one left with the family has to look for an extra income to cater for all expenses. Moreover, an extra expense is incurred because they have to visit the partner in prison. Children, therefore, end up with the wrong company and may end up in prison.


The issues of race and class can be overcome and equality is adopted. Welch (2007, p. 30) suggests that the criminal justice system should address racism and class as a problem. To understand the problem, they should engage in research and get different opinions from different races that live in the United States. They should investigate various avenues of injustice and acknowledge that a large portion of the public has lost trust in the justice system.

The system should practice fairness in the course of its duties. The law can be applied in a manner that racial segregation and class differences do not influence the decisions made by policemen, the courts, and policymakers. The challenge is that the wealthy are always willing to buy their way out of the justice system. In this case, such behavior must be overcome and all be treated fairly. Welch (2007, p. 31) says that a communal approach towards and the support of the poor neighborhood will be necessary to deal with the inequalities. Moreover, the justice system must evaluate and change how it responds to crimes.


Racial and class issues have been affected by the existence of the biases held about the different groups. It is common that the criminal justice considers the education level, the location, and the color of the victim in the process of justice. Crimes committed by the poor have the highest number of convictions and the longest sentences. More so, the African- Americans and the poor population are overrepresented in the prisons. The legislative laws are made to favor the rich and the white people. The criminal justice system is also dominated by educated whites who are in the courts as judges and as attorneys. The solutions for the criminal justice system challenges will call for research of the extent of inequalities. Then adoption of a community-based approach and fairness in the justice system would be significant.

Reference List

  1. Austin, J., & Irwin, J. (2001). It’s about time: America’s imprisonment binge. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Wadsworth/Thomson
  2. Barak, G. (2000). Class, Race, and Gender in Criminology and Criminal Justice: Ways of Seeing Difference Division on Critical Criminology – American Society of Criminology. 
  3. Barlow, M. H. (1998). Race and the problem of crime in Time and Newsweek cover stories, 1946 to 1995. Social Justice, 25, 149-183
  4. Chiricos, T., & Eschholz, S. (2002). The racial and ethnic typification of crime and the criminal typification of race and ethnicity in local television news. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 39, 400-442
  5. Chiricos, T., Welch K., & Gertz M. (2004). The racial typification of crime and support for punitive measures. Criminology, 42, 358-439
  6. Cole, D. (2001). No Equal Justice Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice Conn. Pub. Int. L.J. 1, 1, 19- 33
  7. Kangas, S. (2010). Myth: The criminal justice system is not biased against the poor.
  8. Rose, D. R., & Clear, T. R. (1998). Incarceration, social capital, and crime: Implications for social disorganization theory. Criminology, 36, 441-480.
  9. The Sentencing Project. (2008). Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System. The Prison Journal (87)3: 344–366.
  10. Welch, K. (2007). Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice; 23, 3, 276- 288.