Obvious Racism in Florida’s Criminal Justice System
A long history of racism and prejudice in Florida has made its mark on many of our state’s fundamental institutions. From schools to healthcare to policing, discrimination runs rampant through the system.
In the wake of widespread outcry against racism in law enforcement, more shameful practices are coming to light that reveal the prejudice and inequality inherent in Florida’s criminal justice system, from police conduct through sentencing and parole.
Mass Incarceration of Black Americans in Florida
47% of Florida’s prison population is made up of Black Americans, despite Florida’s general population being less than 20% Black. While defenders point to higher crime rates in Black communities, continuing research suggests that this is not the case.
When it comes to what influences criminal activity, research shows time and time again that race is not a valid indicator of crime. The intersection of class, poverty, and location complicate our understanding, but evidence point to a lack of resources, over-policing, and higher crime rates in urban areas as the primary causes of higher convictions and arrests for Black Americans.
Indeed, in terms of arrests and convictions, Black defendants face steep inequality. When arrested for committing a crime with a white partner, Black defendants are more likely to be arrested, according to a 2019 study. When facing sentencing for the same crime, Black Americans receive longer sentences, and imprisonment rates are higher for Black defendants than for white defendants.
Black Floridians are more likely than white Floridians to be sentenced to prison for nonviolent felonies, and despite the fact that there is no evidence that Florida’s drug users are primarily black, 46% of the state’s felony drug convictions are Black.
This inequity continues into parole proceedings. Research suggests that race often plays a role, intentionally or otherwise, in parole decisions. In the era of mass incarceration, sentences that permit parole are steadily declining, and even those inmates that can petition for parole face serious obstacles.
African American Communities Targeted
A compelling explanation for higher crime among Black communities is a long history of prejudiced policing. The use of discretionary policing programs have disproportionately targeted Black people in Florida, and the overlap between urban areas, poverty, and Black communities often leads to a heightened police presence in Black neighborhoods, which, in turn, increases arrests.
Nowhere is this unspoken profiling more blatant than in schools. As police presence in schools grows, Black children are more likely to be disciplined, suspended, or expelled, despite not being more likely to misbehave. In fact, Black children are seven times more likely to be disciplined for disorderly conduct and four times more likely to be arrested in schools.
Six and seven-year-olds are being arrested as scare tactics in a system where these records can’t be expunged until the age of 21, placing them directly into the school-to-prison pipeline from elementary school onward.
From Booking Station to Courtroom
Police aren’t the only culprits. Throughout the process, Black defendants are at a continuous disadvantage. Prosecutors and district attorneys display bias as well, and the underfunding of the public defender system leaves indigent defendants with overworked and exhausted counsel.
Article III judges are also predominantly white, and state supreme courts rarely reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.
The criminal justice system in Florida is in dire need of reform and reexamination. Accountability for prejudiced practices, training for staff members, and continuing research into criminology is long overdue. A reckoning is long overdue in Florida’s criminal justice system. And now’s the time to address the obvious racism that runs through our institutions.
About Brett Metcalf
Brett Metcalf is a criminal defense attorney in Tampa, Florida. His experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney reflect his commitment to understanding and improving our criminal justice practices. With over 10 years of experience and a community-driven business philosophy, Brett has centered his practice around defending the rights of Florida’s citizens.
If you or a loved one is currently facing criminal charges, Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. can help. Reach out online or call (813) 258-4800 to for a free and confidential consultation.