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Racial injustice persists in criminal sentencing

If you are facing criminal charges in New Mexico, you may be concerned about how your race or ethnicity may affect your experience, including the verdict and sentence you are likely to receive. Evidence shows that these concerns are well-founded. The criminal justice reform movement that has received widespread media attention has focused on the disparate effects of the justice system on people of color and communities living in poverty. Despite reform efforts, statistics released in a study by the Council on Criminal Justice show that black men are still six times more likely than white men to go to prison in the United States.

Racial gaps narrower, but persistent

The report indicated that disparities in imprisonment rates between racial groups decreased for all major crimes but especially for drug offenses. In 2000, black people were 15 times more likely to serve time in state prison for drug convictions, but that disparity had dropped to five times by 2016. While this indicates a positive development, a vast racial gap persists. Several factors may be involved in the change, including reform efforts targeting drug prosecutions.

Cannabis decriminalization or legalization in many states and cities has decreased prosecutions overall. In other areas, the outcomes may be more mixed. Rather than decreasing over-policing in communities of color, excessive arrests may target a more diverse group of people.

Racial bias continues to affect sentencing

While some analysts pointed to positive results from the study, others noted that some gaps are even more troubling than before. Prison sentence lengths increased across the board, especially for black defendants. This dovetails with other research indicating that black defendants are more likely to spend time in pretrial detention and may suffer from conscious or unconscious racial bias on the part of judges, prosecutors or police.

As documented in the study, the criminal justice system is often deeply unfair. If you are being accused of a crime, it may be important for you to push back as effectively as possible by working with a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer may help you to challenge police and prosecution accusations and fight hard to avoid a conviction.