Colorado Rights Blog

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley By: Nathan Woodliff-Stanley 11.24.2014

Denver Post Letter to the Editor: Is there racial bias in U.S. prison sentencing?

(Written by ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley and published in the November 22 Denver Post)

When Judge Morris B. Hoffman labels racial bias in the criminal justice system as “nonsense,” he does so despite a body of research and data clearly showing the opposite.

According to the non-partisan Sentencing Project, black defendants in the U.S. are 20 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison for the same crimes as white defendants. A recent ACLU report found that nationally, blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested and charged for low-level drug possession than whites, despite nearly identical usage rates.

These disparities do not correspond to rates of crime. Only racial bias, whether conscious or unconscious, can explain the difference.

Some of Judge Hoffman’s recommendations around reform of mandatory minimum sentencing, probation and drug laws are very good, but our country will never adequately address its obscene rates of incarceration without facing the reality of racial bias.

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, Denver

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