Race and Social Justice as a Budget Filter: The Solution to Racial Bias in the State Legislature?

Sahar Fathi, Race and Social Justice as a Budget Filter: The Solution to Racial Bias in the State Legislature? 47 Gonz. L. Rev. 531 (2011)

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In 2009, Marc Mauer, the Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, testified on racial disparities in the criminal justice system before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.  He spoke powerfully of data projected by the U.S. Department of Justice—if current trends were to continue, one out of every three black males born today, as well as one out of every six Latino males, will go to prison at some point during his life.

Two years later, states across the country began to report devastating budget deficits.  The State of Washington, for example, announced a $2 billion deficit in the fall of 2011.  In these tough economic times, legislators are increasingly faced with grim decisions regarding funding for education, health care, and other basic services. Complicating matters are the obvious and troubling racial disparities within our criminal justice system, such as the data presented by Mauer.

These disparities reveal racial bias in the legal system. For the purposes of this article, racial bias is used to describe “partiality or favoritism” of a particular race and implies unfairness.  Such bias is often the product of institutional racism—laws and policies that benefit white people and act to the detriment of people of color.  Unfortunately, institutional racism is difficult to identify and frequently overlooked by lawmakers.

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