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Eliminate Racial Sentencing Disparities

WHEREAS, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") is a defender of racial equality in every aspect of American life, including equal justice for those who have been convicted of criminal offenses; and

WHEREAS, if an accused person is to reintegrate into society and live a productive life, he or she must have full confidence in the criminal justice system, but that is impossible if he or she was sentenced to more time in prison or is sentenced to a more extensive probationary period than other defendants because the accused is African American; and

WHEREAS, The Sentencing Project has reported that "[o]nce minority defendants are convicted, they are likely to be sentenced more harshly than white defendants convicted for similar crimes," that such "racial disparity is particularly pronounced in cases involving ... the death penalty", and that "two racial variables affect capital punishment sentencing: the race of the perpetrator and the race of the victim"; and

WHEREAS, decades of research has shown persistent sentencing disparities in jurisdictions across the nation. For example,a year-long public records investigation by the Sarasota (FL) Herald Tribune, analyzing millions of felony cases from 2003-2015, found that for the most serious first-degree crimes, Florida judges sentenced African Americans to 68% more time than Whites with identical points; for burglary, it was 45% more, and for battery, it was 30% more; and

WHEREAS, extreme disparities such as these shock the conscience, defy rational explanation, and are the product of racial prejudice- whether knowingly or unknowingly administered and have gone unnoticed, unanswered and uncorrected by the criminal justice system for decades; and

WHEREAS, a number of factors have been shown to contribute to these disparities, including pretrial detention, mandatory minimum sentences, sentencing enhancements (such as drug zone and habitual offender laws), inadequate legal representation, and biased decision making by law enforcement, prosecutors, juries, and judges; and

WHEREAS, prosecutorial decisions are particularly impactful because of prosecutors' broad discretion to pursue mandatory minimum sentencing and sentencing enhancements which causes wide variations in the potential sentence for defendants who have committed the same crime, particularly when the prosecutor threatens a long sentence unless a defendant pleads guilty; and

WHEREAS, disparities in the criminal legal system exacerbate racial disparities in health, economic opportunity, education, and environmental justice.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP demands that the United States Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics resume and expand its Felony Sentences in State Court report, last published with 2006 data, in order to compile and make publicly available a national database of sentences that allows in-depth analysis of racial disparities; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NAACP endorses remedial measures likely to reduce sentencing disparities such as extended probation, including:

  • Full funding of public defense services for indigent defendants;
  • Investing in high school completion, including education programs for incarcerated individuals to reduce recidivism;
  • Investing in interventions, including youth employment opportunities, that promote strong youth development and respond to delinquency in age-appropriate and evidence-based ways;
  • Removing barriers that make it harder for individuals with criminal records to turn their lives around and fully reintegrate into society, such as extended probationary periods and the unnecessary invocation of criminal records to deny employment, housing, and consumer credit, jury service eligibility, and voter registration to those who have paid their debt to society;
  • Developing and implementing training to reduce racial bias, and making such training mandatory at every level of the criminal justice system, including police officers, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, and jury members;
  • Ending the "war on drugs" and use those resources to make greater use of community-based options for treatment;
  • Rejecting mandatory minimum sentencing and sentencing enhancements that create disparities and allow for coerced plea bargains;
  • Putting an end to the death penalty; and
  • Advocating for the creation of state commissions that would examine the factors that contribute to racial inequity at every stage of the justice system, and provide legislative, administrative solutions to address these factors.
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