It should be crystal clear that the criminal justice, police, and prison systems in the USA need to be completely overhauled in every way. With more incarcerated persons than any nation on earth, we can no longer call ourselves the 'land of the free' without some serious and drastic changes. From the disastrous 'War on Drugs,' to militarized police, to overzealous prosecutors, to misogyny resulting in hundreds of thousands of untested rape tests, there are so many problems that it is hard to know where to begin. However, the Stanford rape case and 6 month sentence imposed upon the rapist has brought the issue of sentencing reform into clear focus.
Most Americans are already aware that enormous disparities in sentencing exist as a result of racial bias. This fact has been brought to the attention of the public previously in the case of the 'affluenza' teen who initially escaped a long sentence after killing 4 people by driving while intoxicated, among many other past examples. Recent progress has been made when Congress acted to remove sentencing disparities caused by mandatory minimum sentencing for possession of crack cocaine. But the Stanford rape case has made it perfectly clear now that racial bias exists in sentencing to such a degree that it undermines public confidence in the system. Justice, in the form of the sentencing of convicted criminals, is administered unequally, with harsher sentences for the poor people of color than for wealthy whites. This is now obvious to everyone, and no rational examination of the facts can lead to any other conclusion. We need to take action to correct this injustice rather than stop pretending that it does not exist.
There is no way to guarantee the elimination of racial bias in sentencing, unless race is eliminated from the equation altogether. So, sentencing needs to be separated from all other criminal justice functions. After a verdict, all sentencing should be moved to a panel of independent judges, who are not given any information that might identify the race of the convicted person. In fact, the panel must only be provided with the age and sex (gender) of the individual. The panel should be blind to all information that might inject bias into the equation, such as the convicted person's name, address, etc. This is the only way to completely and permanently remove racial bias from the sentencing process.
I am deeply disturbed by the militarization of police in the USA, the increased violence and police killings of unarmed persons, the abuse, torture, and murder of Americans in custody (whether convicted or not), and the way we completely refuse to honor the humanity of the incarcerated, leaving prisoners vulnerable to physical violence including rape by other prisoners and even by prison employees. In my opinion, the entire system needs to be completely reformed from the bottom up and replaced with a more humane and effective way to encourage rehabilitation, especially regarding petty crimes and victimless crimes that should not result in incarceration at all. Instead of continuing to allow this behemoth to escape our attention because the problems are so vast and enormous, this is a very simple step we can take immediately to ensure that the disparity in sentencing caused by racial bias is removed ince and for all.
DaveyS is a 5th-generation Texan now living in California, a proud liberal (product of the public education system in North Texas!), and a staunch critic of conservative policies that are destroying our nation.