Unfortunately, it takes controversial court cases (e.g., George Zimmerman) to start discussing racial inequities in the US justice system. The media pits verbose, one-sided adversaries against each, like gladiators in a coliseum. Some try to divert discussion by bragging the American system is the best in the world (though the US and China share the lead for the largest percentage of the world’s prisoners) or insisting that America is now a post-racial society (because it has its first Black President). But, usually, there is no constructive follow-up. No matter whose responsibility or fault, it is past time to address racial inequity in Arizona, because it is killing the State economically.
Though emotions dominate the discussions, facts should be considered. Young Black and Hispanic males (9% of Black men and 4% of Hispanic men in their 20s) are disproportionately incarcerated. In 2013, in Arizona (where Hispanics in 2010 comprised 29.6% and Blacks 3.74% of its population), Hispanics are 61.3% and Blacks 9.5% of state prisoners.
Those, who use economics as justification for legislative and economic policies, should be troubled. In 2012, over $1 billion of taxpayer dollars was spent on the Arizona Department of Corrections. Arizona spends 40% more on prisons than on universities (the past decade spending on universities decreased 11% and prisons increased 75%). It costs $20,000/year to maintain a prisoner.
Costly policies matter. Arizona is the only state requiring non-violent offenders to serve 85% of their sentences. Even measures, like outsourcing prisons to private interests, supposedly meant to save money, have failed (private prisons are more expensive).
There are many reasons for inequities in the Arizona’s system (e.g., poverty, profiling, inability to pay for better lawyers, illegal immigration, lack of parental responsibility, lack of access to mental health care, availability of guns, etc.). Instead of debating which one is most important, Arizonans need to address them all. This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a socio-economic one.
Unless one believes that Americans are racists, who think that Blacks and Hispanics are natural-born criminals, all Arizonans must take some responsibility for resolving the root causes of inequities. If not, the economic burden plus loss of future educated, productive workforces will derail society. These are long-term, complicated problems (e.g. it is not Black males dying in Chicago or people being killed due to “Stand Your Ground” policies; both are important). Compromise and action must replace debate and procrastination.