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U.N. Panel Finds Rampant Racism in U.S. Criminal Justice System

In what will surprise few prisoners, a report by an appointed panel of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) released on September 26, 2023, found “shocking” human rights violations and “staggering” racial disparities in U.S. criminal justice agencies.

The report was authored by panel members Yvonne Mokgoro, former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Tracie Keesee, president of the Center for Policing Equity; and law professor Juan Mendez, who previously served as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture and inhumane treatment.

Pulling no punches, the panel called stark racial disparities evidence of the “worst version of a racist criminal legal system,” part of “a direct legacy of slavery [that] dates back to the foundation of the country.” Rejecting the “bad apple” theory that minimizes the role of institutions in discrimination, Mendez cited “strong evidence suggesting that the abusive behavior of some individual police officers is part of a broader and menacing pattern.” In a country where police kill over 1,000 citizens every year, Black people are three times more likely to be killed by cops than whites and 11 times more likely to suffer from police misconduct. Meanwhile few police officers —just 2% over the past decade—have faced charges. But at least 217 reported settlements in lawsuits involving police misconduct from 2009 to 2022 resulted in more than $2.34 billion in damages.

“Black people are the most incarcerated and most criminally supervised” citizens in the U.S., the panel noted—4.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites and almost three times more likely to be on parole or probation, a “manifestation of the entrenched systemic racism” against minorities. Black women, especially, are “more likely to be restrained and shackled than their white counterparts.”

The report also touched on racial disparities in cash bail, extended pre-trial detention, detention of juvenile offenders, solitary confinement—especially of the mentally ill—and “death by incarceration” sentences such as life and life without parole. The so-called war on drugs also exacerbates these racial disparities, as does the death penalty and political disenfranchisement.

Forcing prisoners to work at slave wages or no wages, the report argued, amounts to “a contemporary form of slavery.” Prisoners at the plantation-style Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, “the majority of them Black men,” toil in fields and even pick cotton, “conditions very similar to those of 150 years ago.”

Noting that the U.S. is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the panel offered 30 recommendations, including ending the war on drugs; abolishing life sentences and the death penalty; strictly regulating solitary confinement; and discontinuing use of “free or poorly paid prison forced labor.” The report is required reading for anyone who doubts the U.S. criminal justice system has pervasive racial disparities or wants to learn more about the issue. See: International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement, UN HRC (Sept. 2023).


Additional source: Reuters News

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