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Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers

September 01, 2008
In this comprehensive guide to analyzing and responding to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, we provide strategies for addressing disparities at each stage of the system, as well as 17 “best practices” illustrating practitioner approaches for enhancing fairness.

America is the most racially diverse democratic nation in the world. Our gains in economic prosperity, however, are not uniformly shared across society, as whole segments of American communities have become marginalized. One fundamental aspect of this marginalization is the disparate treatment of persons of color which occurs incrementally across the entire spectrum of America’s criminal justice system. Racial and ethnic disparity foster public mistrust of the criminal justice system and this impedes our ability to promote public safety.

Many people working within the criminal justice system are acutely aware of the problem of racial disparity and would like to counteract it. The purpose of this manual is to present information on the causes of disparity and to examine what actions can be taken among criminal justice professionals to reduce disparity. We readily acknowledge that racial disparity is symptomatic of problems in society as a whole, but nevertheless maintain that actions can be taken to reduce disparity. This manual is the product of a rigorous process of group discussions and interviews with practitioners in the field as well as a systematic review of best practices and policies in jurisdictions nationwide.

We begin with an overview of some of the identified causes of racial disparity and explore how these are often manifested in the daily operations of the criminal justice system. The manual’s central focus is on the specific ways in which disparities may result from decision-making at various points in the criminal justice process, and the steps that can be taken by criminal justice agencies to counter those effects. It is designed for use as a reference manual for practitioners and offers strategies for assessing racial disparity. It also offers practices, procedures and policies to reduce disparity at each stage of the system.

Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers represents the product of a collaboration among leaders from all components of the criminal justice system. Staff of The Sentencing Project convened an advisory committee composed of criminal justice leaders who provided information, participated in group discussions, and reviewed drafts of the manual. In addition, staff and consultants interviewed a broad range of criminal justice practitioners nationally to solicit ideas and analysis. The first edition (2000) of this manual was written by Dennis Schrantz and Jerry McElroy, and edited by Jenni Gainsborough and Marc Mauer. The second edition was written and edited by Ashley Nellis, Judy Greene, and Marc Mauer.

To read this publication, download the PDF below.

 
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