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Law enforcement still impacts blacks heavily despite improvements

A study produced by the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice reported that the racial imbalances within the criminal justice system have improved over the past 16 years. Despite the narrowing of racial disparities among criminal defendants and inmates in Maryland and nationwide, blacks remain disproportionately represented within local jails and state prisons and among parolees and people on probation. In 2000, state prisons held 15 times more black people convicted of drug crimes than white people. By 2016, the ratio had dropped to 5 to 1.

Although crime statistics indicate less racial targeting in recent years, the criminal justice system remains heavy-handed with blacks according to the report. Prison sentences for black people have actually become longer for all types of crime although the overall rates of major crime categories have dropped.

Researchers speculate that racial disparities within the criminal justice system improved because the problem was historically very bad. Inherent racial biases among police officers, prosecutors, judges and jurors were pervasive in the 1980s and 1990s. Sustained attempts to limit racial prejudice appeared to have reduced the problem somewhat although falling rates of drug crimes contributed significantly to the drop in arrests and convictions among black people.

Information about racial disparities reveals that the criminal justice system tends to target people unfairly. A person, regardless of racial identity, may want independent advice about how to enter a plea after an arrest. The representation of a criminal defense attorney might prevent someone from accepting a harsh plea deal or claiming innocence without a clear defense strategy. An attorney might succeed at getting a person released on bail and then look for opportunities to get charges reduced or dismissed. With legal guidance, a person may gain fair treatment in court.

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