NAACP Urges Swift Enactment of Legislation to Address Racial Discrimination

NAACP Urges Swift Enactment of Legislation to Address Racial Discrimination in the Prosecutorial Phase of the American Criminal Justice

JUSTICE INTEGRITY ACT HAS BEEN INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE; SENATE INTRODUCTION PENDING

Prosecutors are hired to seek criminal convictions for the city, state or nation. Prosecutors, not judges, have the power and discretion to determine which charge to bring, accept or deny a plea bargain, reward or deny a defendant's substantial assistance or cooperation in the prosecution of someone else and, ultimately, to determine the final sentence of the defendant. With the advent of mandatory minimum sentences, it is often the prosecutor who decides, it is not the judge’s discretion, that determines the sentence length when a person is convicted. The NAACP supports federal, state and local jurisdictions establishing programs to create local advisory groups charged with collecting and analyzing racial and ethnic data on charging, plea negotiations, sentencing recommendations and other factors which may have contributed to the over-incarceration of racial and ethnic minority Americans. Such policy must monitor patterns and practices of prosecutors and document discriminatory trends.

Specifically, the NAACP supports the Justice Integrity Act, which was introduced by Congressman Steve Cohen (TN) (H.R. 1771) in the House of Representatives and will soon be introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Cardin (MD). This important legislation aims to address the issue of unwarranted racial disparities in the prosecutorial phase of the American criminal justice system. The Justice Integrity Act would establish 10 pilot programs in which local advisory groups would be charged with collecting and analyzing racial and ethnic data on charging, plea negotiations, sentencing recommendations and other factors involved in creating these disparities.

It is difficult for Americans of color to have faith and confidence in the American judicial system when we know from experience that we are treated differently, and more often more severely, because of the color of our skin. This lack of confidence in turn, makes us not only distrustful of the system at every level, but also makes it much less likely that we can trust or are willing to cooperate with the very people and institutions who are charged with protecting our safety and ensuring that our Constitutional rights are upheld.

While this legislation will not solve the problems overnight, it is a very important first step. If we as a Nation are going to truly meet our potential, we must address these disparities, and thus we appreciate that you have taken this important first step.

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