This report, the first in a series of three by the Center for Law and Justice examining the impact of federal, state and local criminal justice system practices on minorities in the Capital Region, details the overrepresentation of minorities among Capital Region arrests, convictions, and sentences to state prison. It further chronicles the devastating impact the criminal justice system has on minority individuals and communities, and makes recommendations for change.
Section I of the report presents statistical data culled from state and local criminal justice agencies and the United States Census Bureau to demonstrate the disproportionate representation of minorities among arrests, convictions, and sentences to state prison in Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady counties. The percentage of Capital Region arrests and convictions that are minorities is twice their representation in the general population, and the percentage of minorities among prison sentences is as high as almost four times greater than their representation in the general population. Contrary to the sometimes asserted contention that this is due to a higher rate of commission of crimes by minorities, the literature indicates that this disproportionality is more likely due to facially neutral policies that have racially disparate effects.
Section II explains the concept of the “collateral consequences” of a criminal conviction: conditions that, beyond the actual incarcerative sentence, often attach automatically upon conviction. Conviction and/or incarceration can impose highly restrictive educational, employment, housing, and civic conditions on an individual, including losing the right to vote. In addition to the destructive consequences of a criminal conviction to individuals, mass incarceration of people of color wreaks havoc in the neighborhoods in which they reside, resulting in severely impoverished communities.
Section III describes the historic impact of the federal “War on Drugs” and New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws on the mass incarceration of Capital Region people of color. In 2002, Albany County had one of the highest drug crime prison admission rates in the entire country, and one of the most racially disproportionate rates. More recent data from 2011 indicate that Albany County maintains its dubious distinction of having comparatively higher (and more racially disparate) prison admission rates than other jurisdictions in the state.
Section IV examines the relationships between the police department and the community in the cities of Albany, Troy and Schenectady. All three departments have expressed a commitment to “community policing,” and the extent to which each department has operationalized this commitment is assessed.
Section V considers the Capital Region statistics in the context of “The New Jim Crow” movement, which asserts that mass incarceration serves to maintain a racial caste system that denies education, employment, housing, and voting rights to those who carry the label “felon,” in much the same way that the post-Civil War Jim Crow laws denied rights to blacks. Lastly, Section VI provides recommendations for change.
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