Racial disparities continue to affect the criminal justice system in South Carolina and across the United States. Despite highly publicized issues drawing attention to racial bias in criminal prosecution and sentencing, black people are still much more likely to be incarcerated across the country. While statistics show that racial differences have narrowed in the past 16 years in local jails and state prisons, disturbing trends continue to exist. According to the Council on Criminal Justice, the biggest decline in racial disparity was shown in cases involving drug offenses. These cases have been highlighted particularly in campaigns pressing for reform of the criminal justice system, especially as they often involve nonviolent offenders.
In 2000, black defendants were over 15 times more likely to be jailed for drug crimes than white defendants. By 2016, that multiple dropped to five times, still a significant disparity but also reflecting a substantial reduction in disparity. The council that released the report says that it brings together people dealing with the criminal justice system, including members of the Black Lives Matter movement, police representatives and government officials. The continuing disparities have been attributed to several factors, including bias by court officials, differences in the types of crimes committed and “tough-on-crime” policies.
The overall incarceration rate for black men dropped by 30%, mostly due to changes in drug laws. However, the study also highlighted some concerning trends. While racial disparities were shown to be decreasing overall, black people were still subjected to higher prison sentences. In many cases, black defendants were still far more likely to have longer sentences after conviction.
When people are accused of a crime, they may face a criminal justice system that seems stacked against them. A defense attorney may help people facing criminal charges to challenge police and prosecution allegations and aim to prevent a conviction.