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Racial gap still a problem in criminal sentencing

Racial disparity continues to affect the criminal justice system in Illinois and across the country, despite ongoing work for criminal justice reform. The Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan group bringing together government officials, police representatives and advocates for justice reform, released a report saying that there were signs of significant positive progress in reducing the racial gap in imprisonment and sentencing. However, experts also noted that disparity continues to pose a serious barrier and that more needs to be done to make the system a fairer, less biased space for all.

In 2000, black people were 15 times more likely than white people to be imprisoned based on a drug conviction. While this multiple declined to five times by 2016, it still presents a significant disparity. Drug crimes showed the greatest decrease in racial gaps, although the researchers said that the same reduction was found across all major crime areas in local jails, state prisons and probation and parole systems. Several factors have contributed to changing approaches to drug prosecutions, including the opioid epidemic and the legalization of cannabis in many states. Drug convictions have been the focus of reform efforts in many states, as people have received lengthy sentences for nonviolent offenses or even simple possession.

Other experts noted that there are still serious problems with racial disparity, some of which may be attributed to conscious or unconscious bias on the part of judges, prosecutors and police. Black people are more likely to be arrested, and police raids and surveillance are more likely to target communities of color.

People of any race may fear that they confront a stacked deck if they face criminal charges, and a conviction could lead to serious consequences. A criminal defense attorney may help the acused to refute police allegations and aim to prevent a conviction.

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