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Center Releases Report on African American Men in California Criminal Justice System


April 1996

Four in ten African American men in their twenties in California are under some form of criminal justice supervision, a study released by the San-Francisco based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice finds (Vincent Schiraldi, Sue Kuyper, and Sharen Hewitt, Young African Americans and the Criminal Justice System in California: Five Years Later, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, February 1996; William Claiborne, "Calif. Prison Study Finds Wide Racial Disparities," Washington Post, February 13, 1996, p. A3).

Only one in 20 white men in their twenties in California is under criminal justice supervision. The rate for Latinos is 11 percent, or one in 10. African Americans represent 7 percent of the California population, but they make up 18 percent of arrestees and 32 percent of those in prison. Whites, 53 percent of the California population, represent 35 percent of those arrested and only 29 percent of those imprisoned.

The report finds that the high rate of supervision of African Americans is mainly due to the disproportionate impact of drug policies. While there are similar rates of drug use among blacks and whites, blacks are arrested for drug offenses more often than whites.

The report is a follow-up to a similar report by the Center released in 1990. The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group, conducts a similar analysis of nationwide arrests and incarcerations (see "New Report Finds 1 in 3 Young Black Men Under Correctional Supervision," NewsBriefs, December 1995, p. 11).

The authors of the report call for a halt in prison construction, the establishment of a California commission to examine sentencing policies and practices, and increased funding for community corrections and treatment for drug offenders.

Another report from the Center found that blacks are sentenced under California's "three strikes" laws at a rate 13.3 times that of whites (Christopher Davis, Richard Estes, and Vincent Schiraldi, 'Three Strikes': The New Apartheid, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, March 1996; William Claiborne, "Study Finds Disparity in 'Three Strikes' Law" Washington Post, March 5, 1996, p. A3; Fox Butterfield, "Tough Law on Sentences Is Criticized," New York Times, March 8, 1996, p. A14).

43 percent of people sentenced under "three strikes" were black, while only 24.6 percent were white. 85 percent of all people sentenced under three strikes were convicted of a nonviolent offense as their third offense. The report finds that passage of the law shifted more responsibility into the hands of police and prosecutors, away from judges and juries.

[The New York Times story on CJCJ's three strikes report included the statement that more than twice as many marijuana offenders are sentenced under the California law as are sentenced for rape, robbery, and murder combined. That data was released earlier by the California Department of Corrections.]

[For a copy of either of CJCJ's reports, contact the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice at 1622 Folsom Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103, 415-621-5661. Each report costs $3.00. For a copy of The Sentencing Project's report, contact that organization at 918 F Street, NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC 20004, 202-628-0871. That report costs $8.00]