Winds of Change in America’s Criminal Justice System

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Updated: Apr 17, 2020
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The American justice system has always been accused of being unfavorable towards minorities, especially to the black population of our society. A positive change can be seen in recent years, however, according to Philip Smith, editor and chief correspondent of a media project called “Drug Reporter” that is endorsed by the Independent Media Institute. His article, “4 Reasons for a Surprising Change in Racial Incarceration Trendlines,” noted a recent trend of gradual decline in incarceration rate of the black population compared to the rate of white population; indicating a sharp decrease in racial disparities in the United States justice system. Moreover, Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, closely examines mass imprisonment and severe punishment in America, along with the unjust system. This causes if we let “fear, anger and distance” to take over our conscience about the way we treat the most helpless population of our society (Stevenson 14). This essay will discuss how the article illustrates a new positive change in the American justice system through the decreasing trend in racial disparities; exploring its abstract, usage of ethical and logical appeals, and concurrently comparing the article with the book Just Mercy. To summarize, the article describes four reasons behind the continuously diminishing trend of racial discrepancies in the American justice system.

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Firstly, white Americans nowadays are more likely to be imprisoned than black Americans. This is because of frequent drug offenses involving methamphetamines, heroin, and prescription opioid, all which are popular among the white demographic. Next, white Americans have experienced a decline of socioeconomic prospects over the past few decades. The experience of poverty is still very new to them, resulting in a sudden spike of drug abuse, property crime, and thus higher incarceration rate. Additionally, there have been numerous judicial reforms to put a brake on mass confinement which mostly took effect in the big cities housing more black population, whilst nothing notable happened in the conservative rural areas where more of the white population resides. Finally, the overall crime rate has been on a steep decline over the last decade or so, affecting the imprisonment rate of the black population more than that of the white population, because historically, African Americans are the ones more likely to be arrested in the first place. The article successfully used the ethical appeal by establishing the credibility of the author and also managed to incorporate statistical data emphasizing the logical appeal towards the audience. The author Philip Smith is an accomplished writer specializing in drug abuse, with more than twenty years of experience as a drug policy journalist. Besides, he has received awards on multiple occasions, one of them is the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013 (Smith).

On the other hand, the author logically used statistics and data as he mentions, “the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system and found that between 2000 and 2015, the incarceration rate for black men dropped by nearly a quarter (24 percent), while the white male incarceration rate bumped up slightly” (Smith). His article also talks about the sharp decline of black female detention rates by almost 50 percent, while the white female detention rate increasing by 53 percent; all during the period of first 15 years of this century (Smith). In contrast, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy mentions about the increase in number of prison population from 300,000 in the 1970s to 2.3 million in the 2000s; and also remarks a disturbing fact by saying that one in every three black male babies born in the 21st century is likely to be jailed (Stevenson 15). In addition, the writer Smith has a strong core argument, stating that there has been an ongoing trend showing a sharp decline in racial discrepancies towards the black population in the American justice system. He continues to back his claims with intelligent reasoning and substantial use of credible sources to establish those facts. The article mentions four different reasons behind the positive changes regarding racial disparities in the justice system and explained these reasons thoroughly as well.

Phillip Smith puts the whole argument into perspective by providing the continuously proportional reduction of black and white imprisonment rate over the years, “Still, that 5:1 ratio for black vs. white male incarceration rates in 2015 was an 8:1 ratio 15 years earlier. Likewise, that 2:1 ration for black vs. white female incarceration rates was a 6:1 ratio in 2000” (Smith). However, while comparing the book Just Mercy and Phillip Smith’s article, both similarities and differences can be found in their texts. The call for action in both sources is the same, to attain racial equality in the United States justice system. Both sources talk about African American confinement, including the women and juvenile convicts who suffer from the unfair justice system of the United States. In the book, Just Mercy, writer and protagonist Stevenson provides the readers with historical context as well as his moral stance by mentioning, minorities particularly African Americans are more likely to get a death sentence than the white Americans (Stevenson 142). The book focuses on the journey of a lawyer trying to provide justice for an innocent black man, who not only fell victim to the racial injustice of the American justice system but also the American society. On the other hand, Phillip Smith provides a comparative analogy between the black and white confinement rates, using a rather optimistic approach which is somewhat missing in his book Just Mercy. The article shows its optimism by saying, “black people are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than that of white people — but the disparities are decreasing, and there are a number of interesting reasons behind the trend” (Smith).

In conclusion, it can be said that Phillip Smith’s article “4 Reasons for a Surprising Change in Racial Incarceration Trendlines”, successfully demonstrated a progressive trend in the American justice system. The trend shows an overall decrease in black incarceration over the years compared to white incarceration. This does not mean the inequality of the justice system has gone away, rather it gives us the motivation to stand firm and fight for justice even harder than ever before. The United States justice system still has a long way to go in ensuring equal justice for all, regardless of race or color. However, this new phenomenon gives us the courage to dream, to dream about a future where the color of one’s skin will not be the determinant of earning justice. 

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Winds of Change in America's Criminal Justice System. (2020, Apr 17). Retrieved from